“When the lights go off the battle is on.”
Sequels are a dangerous business. They’ve gotten the best of some of the biggest heroes. Just ask Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, or Neo. Expectations are always going to be high. You’ve already shown us what you can do. We assume you did your best on the original film, now go and do better. Often filmmakers interpret this mandate to just make it bigger. More explosions and hard hitting action and special effects. They tend to remember everything but the story. I’m happy to say that Night At The Museum refused to fall into that trap. The film is certainly bigger. There are far more characters. The f/x have absolutely gone up a notch. But everything that made you love the first film is back … and more.
Since the last film, Larry (Stiller) has moved up and moved on from his job as the museum’s night watchman. He now runs an invention house that sells his rather odd knick knacks on television infomercials. When a small touch of nostalgia brings him back to the museum for a little visit, he finds things are not so good. Technology is replacing most of the exhibits with new 3D holographic computers. As Dr. McPhee (Gervais) explains, you must keep up with the times. The original displays are being packed up and shipped to the Smithsonian archives to be stored away in crates indefinitely. Larry spends one last night with his pals and heads back to his own world. Later that night he receives a frantic call from Jedediah that Kahmunrah, brother to Ankmenrah is present at the Smithsonian, and Dexter has stolen the tablet and brought it with them. Worried for his friends, Larry speeds to Washington to find out what is going on. Sneaking into the archives he finds that Kahmunrah has assembled a group of nasties and has Larry’s friends cornered in a railroad car. Together with Al Capone (Bemthal), Ivan, The Terrible (I mean The Awesome) (Guest), and Napoleon Bonaparte (Chabat) he intends to steal the tablet and awaken Kahmunrah’s eternal army and take over the world. It’s a true battle at the Smithsonian as Larry finds extra help in new friends Amelia Earhart (Adams), Col. George Custer (Hader) and even an Einstein bobble-head doll.
Beyond the new characters, you’ll also encounter a giant octopus, The Thinker statue, and various flying machines from the Air and Space Museum. One of the better innovations for this sequel is the presence of paintings and photographs. They also come alive, and one is able to interact and even enter their realities. One such adventure involves the famous sailor kiss on the streets of New York celebrating the end of World War I. There’s a giant balloon dog. You’ll meet the Tuskegee Airmen and Clint Howard sort of reprises his role from Apollo 13.
Of all the new actors and characters, this one is carried quite handily by Hank Azaria playing the top villain in this one. While the trio of Van Dyke, Rooney, and Cobbs were villains of sorts in the first film, they were not quite the life and death menace that drives most films. Now that the living exhibits idea isn’t quite so novel, it was important to find a strong nemesis in this follow up. They couldn’t have done better than Azaria. He plays the evil pharaoh as Karloff with a lisp. He’s at once over the top, but pulls it off without appearing so out of bounds. It’s a wonderful combination of comedy and menace, and he absolutely needs to be a part of any future film in the franchise. Amy Adams supplies Stiller with a love interest in her role as Amelia Earhart. She carries it cute enough, but I don’t think the character comes off as strongly as it was intended. Fortunately, this is a popcorn movie, and we aren’t demanding much depth in our characters. Azaria is merely an added bonus.
No question the stakes were raised in the f/x. Of course, the first film was no small matter in the green screen department. But, here there are far more characters romping around creating a much more complicated level of interaction between what is real and what is imagined. The boundaries are absolutely seamless. It’s a thrilling ride that never takes you out of the moment with awkward and obvious f/x. The painting and photograph displays stand out as particularly clever examples of the amped up special f/x. The Al Capone character comes from a black and white display, so the character retains that colorless appearance. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but not with this amount or with this level of movement and complex interaction. I have to admit that I didn’t like John Bemthal’s performance as the Chicago land gangster. He was expressionless and did not have the charisma that Capone must have had to intimidate the way he did. I understand this is a very young Capone, but he wouldn’t have risen to the place he did with such a weenie stature as Bemthal displays here. Still, the f/x that keep him monochromatic were very well executed, even if the performance itself was not.
Night At The Museum 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 23 mbps. This image looks very good. Everything is so crisp and clean. Colors, while not bright and overwhelming, are very solid and completely reference quality. Detail is stunning at all times. A lot of effort went into providing tons of detailing in the sets and props, and that pays off big time with this kind of an image. Black levels are excellent, providing a rich inky quality and plenty of shadow definition. I missed this at the movies and I did not look at the DVD, but I can’t imagine this isn’t a step up from even the box office release. You’re gonna love this image presentation.
The DTS-HD Master audio is also a very nicely done presentation. There’s a lot going on around these characters, and the greatest attention to nuance and surround placement gives you that total immersive experience I so often look for in a film of this kind. If it’s going to be a ride, it should be a full experience ride, and you’ll get that here. The score is dynamic. The dialog is always exactly where it needs to be and clear as crystal. The sub response isn’t quite what I hoped for, but it does have its moments.
There are 2 Audio Commentaries to be found. The first is with director Shawn Levy and is the more informative and entertaining of the two. The second is with writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. This one is a bit drier and has more dead air.
This is one of those 3 disc collections. You get the Blu-ray with the film and a ton of extra features. There is also a standard DVD version of the film. And, a digital copy.
I only reviewed the Blu-ray content:
The Curators Of Comedy – Behind The Scenes Of Night At The Museum 2: (27:52) HD Cast and crew make sure to get in a lot of laughs as they take you behind the scenes for this one. Topics include casting the new characters, the high level of improv, sets and locations, and the pressure of delivering on a sequel to a successful film. There’s a ton of the usual love-fest stuff here as well as a lot of lighter than usual moments.
Historical Confessions – Famous Last Words: (6:29) HD The actors remain in character and provide some amusing facts about the actual historical person.
Directing 201 – A Day In The Life Of Director/Producer Shawn Levy: (19:19) HD This is one of those dawn to wrap pieces where we follow Levy on a typical day on the set of the film.
Cavemen Conversations – Survival Of The Wittiest: (4:18) HD This is a mock interview with the cavemen. Clever? Yes. Tedious? Absolutely.
Museum Magic – Entering The World Of Photography: (5:41) HD This piece looks at the filming of the living World War II V-Day photograph.
The Jonas Brothers In Cherub Boot camp: (3:53) HD This one is strictly for the teen girls. It’s a mock piece on what the Jonas Brothers went through to do the film. It’s all a joke, however.
Phinding Pharaoh: (4:50) HD Hank Azaria tried various accents before deciding on the admitted Boris Karloff voice for the villain Kahmunrah.
Secret Doors And Scientists – Behind The Scenes Of The American Museum Of Natural History: (15:58) HD Tour the real New York museum that the first film was based on.
Show Me The Monkey Featurettes: (17:59) HD There are three short segments dealing with the monkey actor. You can play them individually or all at once.
Deleted Scenes: (26:44) HD There are 12 in all with a handy play all option. There is also the option to play with a commentary by Shawn Levy. Most of these are merely extended or alternate scenes, including an extended ending that features Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs making a cameo return. It sets up a potential third film idea.
Gangster Levy: (1:57) HD This feature highlights a film noir clip that was made to be shown on a loop at the Al Capone exhibit. It features an introduction by Levy.
Gag Reel: (8:10)
Fox Movie Channel Presents – Making A Scene: (9:36) SD This is one of those behind the scenes quick features for the Fox Movie Channel.
Fox Movie Channel Presents – World Première: (5:29) SD Another television show this time “red carpet” interviews from the film’s premiere.
I enjoyed this film at least as much, if not more, than I did the first film. I liked pretty much everything about it. All of your favorites have returned, although Robin Williams has a pretty limited role in this one. His character doesn’t make the trip to the Smithsonian, but we do get a quick visit with him before and after. He gets a very short middle cameo in another form. If you like to pick apart little historical inaccuracies and other such trivial flaws, this film, as did the first, will make you insane. I taught history for years, but I can enjoy a simple romp without complaining. If anything, films like this might encourage youngsters, and “oldsters” to look up some of these events and people to learn more. What could be wrong with that? As for me, I encourage you to pick up this high definition delight and enjoy it with the entire family, even the dog (if she can stop barking long enough). If I’ve convinced you to do that, then “It appears my work is done here”.