Film review: Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian

posted at 8:48 am on May 23, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Ben Stiller and all of his friends return in a sequel to the imaginative and fun Night at the Museum, which allowed Stiller to dip his toes in the relatively unfamiliar family-entertainment waters.  If Stiller and his audience tested the waters with equal trepidation last time, both jump effortlessly this time around as the premise and the jokes are familiar — and still work.  Like all sequels, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian doubles down on the familiar, but unlike many sequels, manages to entertain even while pushing the premise to the stretching point.

Fans of the original know that the Tablet of Akhmenrah allows the exhibits in the museum to come to life after dark, but Larry (Stiller) no longer presides over the fun.  Instead, his inventions have become highly popular in a Ron Popeil fashion, and he has been gone from the museum for two years, visiting only occasionally.  He discovers that most of his nighttime friends will soon get warehoused in the Smithsonian’s underground archives in Washington DC, but that the tablet won’t go with them – dooming them to normal exhibit status.  A frantic phone call brings Larry to Washington — but do his friends need Larry’s help, or the other way around?  And more than just the people and animals in the exhibits come to life this time.

Most of the original cast return for Battle, and a few more join Stiller.  Amy Adams plays Amelia Earhart as a spunky, adventure-seeking woman who sees into Larry’s heart better than Larry himself.  Hank Azaria voices two characters and plays Kahmunrah, Akhmenrah’s older black-sheep brother who wants to rule the world — and who holds a rather witty despots’ meeting to arrange it.  Christopher Guest is a bit wasted as Ivan the Terrible, Bill Hader has fun as George Custer, and Clint Howard reprises a role from a completely different movie. Judd Apatow’s ensemble members show up for various cameos, too.

Bottom line: if you liked the first movie, as I did, this movie will work for you.  If you didn’t like the first movie, you’ll like this one even less.  The effects are well done, and it remains a family-friendly franchise, with no cursing, blood, or anything more overtly sexual than a reference to “second base.”  Kids will enjoy the film, but the younger ones might get frightened by a couple of intense scenes.  The Smithsonian should love this movie; they could hardly have asked for a better advertisement.

Note: I’m still on vacation; the First Mate and I saw this in West Des Moines last night, and I wanted to get the review posted for people who may wonder whether to see this movie over the holiday weekend.


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I might see it on DVD. I liked the first one — was pleasantly surprised.

What I’m really looking forward to is Terminator, but moreover Transformers!

It’s going to be a phenomenal summer flick.

Back to Night at Museum, its good to see a film that isn’t filled with sex and cursing.

I mean I like some sex and some cursing in films, but too often there are no films for kids to see that are clean, and too often the sex and cursing is just over the top.

It’s good to see there are people still out there that can make a movie that is clean.

blatantblue on May 23, 2009 at 8:54 AM

I’m still on vacation; the First Mate and I saw this in West Des Moines last

Mrs Captain has every right to beat you severely about the head and shoulders.

Limerick on May 23, 2009 at 9:03 AM

I was pleasantly surprised by the first film. Stiller was pretty good. I’ll get the flick on DVD.

jencab on May 23, 2009 at 9:03 AM

Ed posted on VACATION! How long did he last?

5u93rm4n on May 23, 2009 at 9:06 AM

Amy Adams plays

I’ll be there.

amerpundit on May 23, 2009 at 9:07 AM

blatantblue on May 23, 2009 at 8:54 AM

One other aspect that’s good: It may get kids interested in knowing some history. The Smithsonian is portrayed as a cool place and they start to know names of major characters from world history.

amerpundit on May 23, 2009 at 9:08 AM

amerpundit on May 23, 2009 at 9:08 AM

That’s a really good point.

blatantblue on May 23, 2009 at 9:09 AM

Night at the Museum, which allowed Stiller to dip his toes in the relatively unfamiliar family-entertainment waters.

I’ve appreciated his foray into clean fun, as well as those of Steve Martin (Cheaper By The Dozen) & Eddie Murphy (Daddy Day Care).

jgapinoy on May 23, 2009 at 9:11 AM

Mrs Captain has every right to beat you severely about the head and shoulders.

Limerick on May 23, 2009 at 9:03 AM

Yeah, well, take a look at the route from Branson to the Twin Cities and try to find an interesting halfway point. ;-)

Ed Morrissey on May 23, 2009 at 9:12 AM

Ed Morrissey on May 23, 2009 at 9:12 AM

Do what the Mrs and I do and find the highway ‘Hysterical Marker’ ahead signs. We’ve seen some pretty fascinating bits of American history…..first outhouse west of Memphis, the site where Big Joe Tucker shot off his right foot, and Teddy slept on the ground around here someplace.

Limerick on May 23, 2009 at 9:16 AM

Limerick on May 23, 2009 at 9:16 AM

I’m taking a wild guess that you meant to say “Historical”.

amerpundit on May 23, 2009 at 9:17 AM

Although, come to think of it “hysterical” could very well fit that description, too.

amerpundit on May 23, 2009 at 9:18 AM

amerpundit on May 23, 2009 at 9:17 AM

it’s one of those running Limerick family vacation things.

“Oh dad! Not another one!”

Limerick on May 23, 2009 at 9:19 AM

I love posts like this.

BowHuntingTexas on May 23, 2009 at 9:25 AM

It was kinda cool that the first one had Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke in it playing the bad guys.

kingsjester on May 23, 2009 at 9:32 AM

Kudos to Stiller for continuing this “family-friendly” venture. It amazes me that there are not more PG movies. Industry figures show PG and PG-13 to be *much* better investments than R films. Despite what many of the Hollywood decision-makers try to make us think, most audiences don’t really want to be smothered with constant f-words or have their pupils seared by explicit sex scenes. Give us clean, witty dialog and *romance* and/or adventure, not R-rated semi-porn bloodfests. YMMV.

KS Rex on May 23, 2009 at 9:33 AM

Newsflash to Ed: “Vacation” and “West Des Moines” don’t belong in the same paragraph.

Cicero43 on May 23, 2009 at 9:43 AM

Note: I’m still on vacation; the First Mate and I saw this in West Des Moines last night, and I wanted to get the review posted for people who may wonder whether to see this movie over the holiday weekend.

Glad to hear your having a safe and “adventurous” trip Cap. Watch out for those “holiday drivers” (un-polished road warriors).

Rovin on May 23, 2009 at 9:46 AM

Newsflash to Ed: “Vacation” and “West Des Moines” don’t belong in the same paragraph.

Cicero43 on May 23, 2009 at 9:43 AM

Are you kidding? Check out the “Do More, Today” section on the Des Moines tourism website!

- The Dinosaurs are Here
- Boys State Track Meet
- Iowa Architectural Foundation
- Walking Tours

Who needs Vegas (or Branson), when you can have this!

KS Rex on May 23, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Of course, Hollywood’s dislike for Bush is exemplified in the caustic “Mission Accomplished” line in the second trailer. Sadly, politics intrudes everywhere these days, including some places it shouldn’t.

unclesmrgol on May 23, 2009 at 10:02 AM

Tablet of Akhmenrah allows the exhibits in the museum to come to life after dark

What’s the range on that thing, again? If it is going to the Smithsonian, is it at the mall in D.C.? There are a whole lot of museums packed into a very small area there.

Count to 10 on May 23, 2009 at 10:13 AM

What’s the range on that thing, again? If it is going to the Smithsonian, is it at the mall in D.C.? There are a whole lot of museums packed into a very small area there.

Count to 10 on May 23, 2009 at 10:13 AM

15365.26 square Babylonian trade cubits, not counting the extended side lobes. Diller is improperly holding the tablet — it’s the small edges which have the most intense radiation.

unclesmrgol on May 23, 2009 at 10:39 AM

As long as we’re not assaulted by the likes of “Tropic Thunder” again.

keyboarddude on May 23, 2009 at 10:46 AM

Yeah, well, take a look at the route from Branson to the Twin Cities and try to find an interesting halfway point. ;-)

Ed Morrissey on May 23, 2009 at 9:12 AM

You didn’t stop at “Field of Dreams” in Iowa? Or is it gone?

Knucklehead on May 23, 2009 at 11:08 AM

Yah, lets make sequels to poor films that might appeal to children instead something that just might appeal to an adult looking for a great story and some decent acting….

Hening on May 23, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Of course, Hollywood’s dislike for Bush is exemplified in the caustic “Mission Accomplished” line in the second trailer. Sadly, politics intrudes everywhere these days, including some places it shouldn’t.

unclesmrgol on May 23, 2009 at 10:02 AM

Except after two successful elections and no impeachment like his predecessor, President Bush did accomplish his mission. Maybe they meant victory Iraq???

Hening on May 23, 2009 at 11:18 AM

Making films to entertain kids is not easy. Michael Moore has clearly been trying for years and his audence consists entirely of people with distorted realities.

IlikedAUH2O on May 23, 2009 at 11:20 AM

We saw it last night. Not as good as the first on but, my 6 y/o loved it and my 2 y/o wasn’t frightened by anything. Overall I’d give it 3.5 footstabs out of 5.

boomer on May 23, 2009 at 11:28 AM

Kudos to Stiller for continuing this “family-friendly” venture. It amazes me that there are not more PG movies. Industry figures show PG and PG-13 to be *much* better investments than R films. Despite what many of the Hollywood decision-makers try to make us think, most audiences don’t really want to be smothered with constant f-words or have their pupils seared by explicit sex scenes. Give us clean, witty dialog and *romance* and/or adventure, not R-rated semi-porn bloodfests. YMMV.

KS Rex on May 23, 2009 at 9:33 AM

I’d simply be happy if they brought back the steady-cam and wide angles instead of making every movie look like homemade porn.

James on May 23, 2009 at 11:31 AM

Yah, lets make sequels to poor films that might appeal to children instead something that just might appeal to an adult looking for a great story and some decent acting….

Hening on May 23, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Thread winner!

Knucklehead on May 23, 2009 at 11:31 AM

What we need is a “Zoolander” sequel, and we need it now.

TheMightyMonarch on May 23, 2009 at 11:32 AM

Ouch! I’m such a fan it pains me to disagree with Ed Morrissey about anything. But Night at the Museum? Or any movie starring Ben Stiller? Might as well be endorsing Olbermann-Garofalo 2012.

DarkKnight3565 on May 23, 2009 at 11:51 AM

Thanks for dropping another $20 in the “Horrendous Hollywood Garbage” fund.

I’m sure we’ll get great movies from now on.

TMK on May 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM

I will buy the DVD of this. Seldom go out to the movies anymore. The popcorn tastes awful and the ticket prices are stupid.

dogsoldier on May 23, 2009 at 12:06 PM

Yeah, well, take a look at the route from Branson to the Twin Cities and try to find an interesting halfway point. ;-)

Ed Morrissey on May 23, 2009 at 9:12 AM

This is true. It beats driving across Kansas or Nebraska though. (sorry KS and NE people!)

Thanks for the review Ed. My 10 yr old wants to see it. With Stiller, I was wondering if he’d (they’d) try to push the envelope in the sequel. Glad to hear it’s appropriate for kids.

conservative pilgrim on May 23, 2009 at 12:26 PM

I will buy the DVD of this. Seldom go out to the movies anymore. The popcorn tastes awful and the ticket prices are stupid.

dogsoldier on May 23, 2009 at 12:06 PM

I saw a movie last night too. I won’t say which, it might offend my Catholic friends… I would have seen this but both the girls had sleep overs and I didn’t want to see it twice. I loved the first one!

In fact… my three-year-old twin grandsons are coming for a very long stay (My son is in a Phd program at Stanford and is splitting the summer with us and the inlaws.) I think getting the original on DVD and then going to an actual museum with the boys would be a hoot! Dinosaur bones!

But… about movie prices! Grrrrr! And then I had to watch commercials too! The one where the sweat squirts from the underarms! I’d almost pay another buck not to have to see that commercial!

Often we wait a see movies at the $3.oo theather. On Tuesdays it’s only $1.50!

petunia on May 23, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Often we wait a see movies at the $3.oo theather. On Tuesdays it’s only $1.50!

petunia on May 23, 2009 at 12:30 PM

We do the same thing. I can’t remember the last time we paid regular movie prices.

conservative pilgrim on May 23, 2009 at 12:39 PM

The movie our sons will FROG MARCH us to the cinema to see will be the latest Harry Potter, coming out this summer.

Sekhmet on May 23, 2009 at 12:46 PM

Often we wait a see movies at the $3.oo theather. On Tuesdays it’s only $1.50!

petunia on May 23, 2009 at 12:30 PM

It depends, our local IMAX in St Augustine got my 14 bucks for Star Trek, some movies just have to be done right :)

Squid Shark on May 23, 2009 at 12:49 PM

On the TV front, it looks like there is finally going to be a show making fun of Al Gore and PC-ness!

The Goode Family

PattyJ on May 23, 2009 at 12:52 PM

Thanks for the review Ed…I normally don’t take movie reviews too seriously, but you’re spot-on every time. With that, I’ll be seeing this one over the weekend. Seems like a good “no brainer” fun movie.

After much anticipation, I was so disappointed with Angels and Demons. Granted, that and DaVinci Code were far better reads than movies, Angels and Demons was just horrible.

JetBoy on May 23, 2009 at 1:19 PM

you in iowa ed??

ousoonerfan15 on May 23, 2009 at 1:50 PM

It depends, our local IMAX in St Augustine got my 14 bucks for Star Trek, some movies just have to be done right :)

Squid Shark on May 23, 2009 at 12:49 PM

OH yes! We saw Star Trek at IMAX too. We will probably see the Harry Potter there as well. Unless… there is a little town in Washington State, Leavenworth. It has a tiny little theater, it probably seats about 30. That’s my hometown actually. And we have seen many of the Harry Potter’s for the first time there. It is very intimate and sort of adds to the fun. We should be there at the right time again this year…

petunia on May 23, 2009 at 2:43 PM

I liked the first one. It was good for a some laughs. However, things being what they are right now, this one will have to wait, til it comes out, on dvd. Movie theaters, are just to pricey in this economy.

capejasmine on May 23, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Economy or no…my kids are clamoring to see it. So we’re going. (and I’ll enjoy it too)

DngrMse on May 23, 2009 at 3:28 PM

Welcome back Ed! Missed you sir.

carbon_footprint on May 23, 2009 at 4:07 PM

Note: If you are in West Des Moines, you aren’t on vacation.

2Tru2Tru on May 23, 2009 at 8:10 PM

I took my 8 year old to watch it. He loved it!

VibrioCocci on May 23, 2009 at 9:21 PM

A night at the movies is rare for me. I did see the first ‘museum’ and enjoyed it.
I did go to see TERMINATOR SALVATION yesterday.
Just wow. And the sound designer gets a case of beer.

LimaLimaMikeFoxtrot on May 23, 2009 at 9:46 PM

Thanks for the review, Ed. I was one of those people who wondered whether to bring my daughter to the movie.

Your review has me excited to do so. I especially like that there isn’t cursing or a lot of innuendo.

Have a great vacation!

Skidd on May 24, 2009 at 12:14 AM

Thanks Ed!
Speaking of “a family-friendly franchise”,
its only 5 more days till the release of UP. Something comforting about not seeing the faces of the usual Hollywood Clowns! Not sure who is doing the voices? Drive Carefully!

“Let’s Roll”

On Watch on May 24, 2009 at 1:31 AM

Never even heard of the first one, that’s how out of it I am. Looks pretty stupid, actually; takes too much suspension of disbelief (this from someone whose favorite film is “Back to the Future”). But might be a good evening’s entertainment, which is what a movie should be.

We got a Netflix subscription from the (grown) kids for Christmas, so are looking for suggestions. Saw “The Rocketeer” recently (great fun) and “Outsource” last night (charming comedy and very true-to-life view of India); revisited “Murder on the Orient Express” (worth seeing twice to get all the clues and funny lines). Ideas welcome—just nothing depressing, please, nor overly gross and violent. I have never understood the modern obsession with ‘realistic’ dialogue, meaning four-letter words—not a one in “Casablanca,” arguably the greatest movie ever made.

MrLynn on May 24, 2009 at 8:30 AM

It was kinda cool that the first one had Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke in it playing the bad guys.

kingsjester on May 23, 2009 at 9:32 AM

Well, of course.

It’s a museum movie.

Shy Guy on May 24, 2009 at 12:50 PM

Stiller should thank his parents every single day. He has none of their talent but w/ their help he has a career. For now.

BHO Jonestown on May 24, 2009 at 7:05 PM

Just got back from seeing it with the wife. Lots of fun, lots of laughs. Can’t wait for the DVD.

Stiller should thank his parents every single day. He has none of their talent

Strongly disagree.

jgapinoy on May 25, 2009 at 5:15 PM

From pluggedinonline.com:

I laughed out loud quite a lot during this movie. And I enjoyed the creative ways in which the filmmakers brought such a variety of museum exhibits to life—from that historically significant moment with the Tuskegee Airmen to Larry grabbing the old farmer’s pitchfork from Grant Wood’s classic painting, American Gothic.

Instead of making it feel derivative or cobbled together, this tale’s liberal appropriations of other films and TV shows actually seems to accentuate its good-natured ribbing style. Along for the ride are influences from National Treasure and Mission: Impossible, cribbed dialog from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Last of the Mohicans, and even a catchphrase from American Idol.

jgapinoy on May 25, 2009 at 9:10 PM