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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
June 3, 2009

Yesterday was the first really hot day of the year. KC emailed me at work: “Brain melting. Let’s go to the movies! They have industrial AC!” Since we’d already seen Up, we chose Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

As expected, Amy Adams playing Amelia Earhart was the best thing about it. I like Ben Stiller (as lead, guard Larry Daley), but at times here, he seemed too tired and reserved for all the special effects mayhem going on around him. But she always had gumption and moxie and frequently saved the day. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling things, but her role was fresh and kept me interested even when other bits didn’t.

Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart

The part at the beginning establishing Larry’s successful company was unnecessary and slow; I wanted to know instead what happened to the girlfriend from the previous movie, but I think they were hoping everyone would forget about that.

I liked the film, but not as much as the first one. There are impressive special effects, but I would have appreciated a little more comedy and fewer plot/chase/threatening scenes, because all that was predictable. The music was way overdone trying to make it feel epic. (If I notice the score, I know it’s too much.) It’s also overstuffed. They had to get in all the characters from the previous movie as well as all the new Smithsonian elements.

Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt

The returning character I was most glad of was Robin Williams’ Teddy Roosevelt, who grounds the movie with smart advice and a sense of gravitas. New this film is Hank Azaria, the lead villain as an Egyptian Pharaoh, Kahmunrah, who talks like Boris Karloff (vaguely English, upper class, with a lisp). I kept getting confused about what he knew — he enlisted Al Capone, who lived centuries after him, and he knew what “exfoliation” was, but he’d never heard of Darth Vader? I know, I’m overthinking. But speaking of Vader, that scene would have been so much better if they hadn’t revealed so much of it in the ads. This is a movie it’s better to know very little about going in.

Christopher Guest and Hank Azaria

Azaria also provides the voices of the Thinker and Abraham Lincoln, which I didn’t guess — he’s very good at distinctive voices. Also new in this film was Bill Hader as George Custer, a difficult role given that all anyone remembers about him now is that he was a loser with good hair. Christopher Guest plays Ivan the Terrible as a mostly generic old-time bad guy. And the Jonas Brothers cameo, making them the element that will most date the movie later.

Let’s see, what else did I like? I was very glad at the scenes of the living art pieces, though, even if few of them are really part of the Smithsonian. (American Gothic and Nighthawks are at the Art Institute of Chicago, for example.) Seeing a huge Jeff Koons balloon dog bouncing around was nifty.

Also be aware: the movie acts as a giant ad for visiting the Smithsonian — and it works. I want to plan a vacation there now, especially since they’re providing tie-in visitor guides.

Although I dislike what I call Xanadu endings, I still recommend you see this if you’re looking for some escapist summer fun.

14 Responses  
Ed Sizemore writes:  

I think only classic horror films buffs will get Hank Azaria’s voice joke. He’s doing a dead on impersonation of Boris Karloff’s Mummy.

I’m glad I’m not the only one to notice that Nighthawks and American Gothic were in the wrong museum. In fact, I suspect that whole room is taken from the Chicago Art Institute.

I agree it’s a good summer escapist movie. Lincoln at the end is almost worth the admission price alone.

 
Ed Sizemore writes:  

Sorry, see you mentioned the Boris impersonation.

 
Johanna writes:  

I was surprised I recognized it, since I’ve never seen the Mummy. And yeah, Lincoln is another high point, even if that whole bit plays fast and loose with the “rules” from the first film.

The first movie was man vs. himself, come to think of it, while this one is man vs. 2-d serial villain.

 
David Oakes writes:  

Ben Stiller’s name might be on the top of the marquee, but that is an accident of birth and the myopia of Hollywood. It is no more Larry’s story than any of the characters of the first film. Instead, it is a two hour love letter to Amelia Earhart, showing us “What you can do if you are given the chance”. (This theme is underlined in the Air & Space Museum.)

(My one disappointment was after all that time telling us of the numerous actual accomplishments of Ms Earhart rather than dismissing her as “That chick who got lost”, Custer does not get similarly rehabilitated.)

But still, very entertaining, and – dare I say it – fun for the whole family. Our seven year old loved the squid, nine recognized the art, eleven sang along to the Jonas brothers, and my wife got most of the history jokes. (And I will never be able to watch “300” the same way again…)

 
Ed Sizemore writes:  

Johanna,

I thought the rules for coming to life were more expansive in this film too. I know they tried to justify it by saying all the major museums were connected underground. However, even that limitation gets ignored.

You have to see the Mummy. It’s so well constructed with incredible performances by all the actors. I have it on DVD, we’ll have to do a movie night with that film. From a storytelling perspective, I think it’s the best of the 30’s Universal Horror films. Really, you have to see it. Seeing Azaria’s performance makes me want to see again.

I hadn’t thought of man vs. 2-d serial villian angle. I like that. The film does have something of a 30’s/40’s action serial feel to it.

Also, I do love all of Amelia’s pseudo slang. Kudos to Amy Adams for delivering those lines so naturally and effortlessly. I can’t imagine they were easy to learn.

 
Johanna writes:  

David, what does 300 have to do with it?

Ed, sounds good! And great point on the slang. It was hilarious! And mostly accurate, I think.

 
Hsifeng writes:  

David Oakes Says:

“…(My one disappointment was after all that time telling us of the numerous actual accomplishments of Ms Earhart rather than dismissing her as ‘That chick who got lost’, Custer does not get similarly rehabilitated.)…”

That reminds me of this, which maybe sheds light on why?

Neal Stephenson, in “Mother Earth Motherboard,” Wired issue 4.12, December 1996, Says:

“…The Victorian era was an age of superlatives and larger-than-life characters, and as far as that goes, Dr. Wildman Whitehouse fit right in: what Victoria was to monarchs, Dickens to novelists, Burton to explorers, Robert E. Lee to generals, Dr. Wildman Whitehouse was to assholes. He achieved a level of pure accomplishment in this field that the Alfonse D’Amatos of our time can only dream of. The only 19th-century figure who even comes close to him in this department is Custer…”

 
David Oakes writes:  

Re: 300

Owen Wilson and Gerard Butler had the same fight choreographer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTXlWYdodnc

 
Johanna writes:  

Oh, that explains why that sequence was so drawn-out and heavily stylized.

 
El Santo writes:  

@Hsifeng: that assumes that Neal Stephenson is on the level, though, and not just name-dropping Custer because of his bad rep. Heck, if we’re talking about great assholes of the period, I’d probably place several above Custer, including Nathaniel Bedford Forrest (for founding the Ku Kux Klan) and Roscoe Conkling (for scheming for control of the presidency).

 
Malveaux writes:  

When you give in to the marketing and come to DC, let me know and I’ll treat you and your SO to an incredible dinner and evening. I can even fill your trunk with comics if you have the storage space for them.

 
Johanna writes:  

How thoughtful! Thank you.

 
A Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] the special effects remain impressively fascinating. I’ve already written about some of my concerns when I saw it at the theater this summer, so here I’ll concentrate on talking about the DVD [...]

 
NBM: On the Odd Hours, Joe and Azat, Year of Loving Dangerously » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] which wake and control the pieces of art. It’s kind of a French, artsy version of Night at the Museum — but I suspect how well this works for you depends on how much you allow yourself to sink [...]

 

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