Movies: Night at the Museum 2

Al and I spent the morning at the zoo and the afternoon at the museum, and there we had a great time watching Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian on the giant IMAX screen (with my husband and older son, who met us there). I really hadn’t wanted there to be a sequel, as it was hard to see how they could do as well as the first movie, but they did.

I can see from the comments at imdb.com that my opinion is hardly shared by all or even most. There are some viewers who think it’s even better than the first, but many who think this is just a poorly reheated batch of leftovers. The sequel is admittedly more into spectacle and witty conversation than character and motivation, but if you enjoy it for what it is rather than what it is not, it really is great fun. (One viewer titled his review “Dumb-dumb but fun-fun,” which is good summing up – as well as a reference easily recognizable by anyone who has seen either movie.)

There’s not much of a plot, so I wouldn’t be giving much away to describe it, but it also is hardly worth telling without being able to watch it unfold. It has some pretty big holes: how in the world did Larry become a successful businessman in just a few years? where did the fuel come from for the rocket and airplanes? who cleaned up the mess at the end? just to name a few.

But I was too busy enjoying the movie to mind that. Some people complain that it’s cluttered with too many characters, too much action, scriptwriters with more ideas than sense trying to throw everything in that could possibly be entertaining, until it’s nothing but a senseless succession of scenes. I enjoyed the fast-moving action, however, and found the quick but clever snippets highly entertaining.

So what if American Gothic isn’t at the Smithsonian? Or that using it as a springboard for humor has been done so many times? I still thought it was funny for Larry to grab the man’s pitchfork as a weapon and have him hold the tablet that Larry was trying to keep away from the bad guys. Having paintings come to life is one of the new elements in the sequel, by the way (at least I don’t remember any in the first movie), and it turns out people and objects can go between the painting and real world quite easily.

Showing a beached boat in another painting, after Larry has dumped out the water on a giant octopus, is one of those little touches that show the quality of a movie, in my opinion. You only see the revised painting for a moment, but someone went to the trouble of creating that altered scene in the style of the original painting. Leaving a cell phone behind in a 1945 photograph (that Larry had fled into to escape his Egyptian pursuers, then left in an equal hurry, minus his phone), to be found by a young man who puzzles over the strange device, then – well, if you watch the movie, be sure to stay as the credits start rolling.

Some viewers thought the singing cupids were obnoxious. Well, I wouldn’t want a movie made around them, but I thought the idea was very cute. The CGI involved in animating statues was excellent – even if Rodin’s Thinker turns out to be more motivated by hormones (he sees a female statue) than deep thought. So Abraham Lincoln was used more as a plot device than an homage to a great man – but his line about a house divided (and Larry’s tactical use of it shortly afterward) may be remembered by many viewers who know little of the 16th President.

There’s not a lot of history to learn here, but what there is, is presumably accurate. The curators at the Smithsonian were – according to trivia listed at imdb.com – eager to share historical background on the characters to be included in the film. (I also find it amusing that Darth Vader’s very limited role was limited, not by the scriptwriters, but copyright holders, whose representatives on the set kept their fearsome villain from doing much.)

I suppose part of what I like so much here is the same as why I have always like the American Museum of Natural History (one of the Smithsonian’s nineteen museums, which – contrary to what Larry tells his son – are not all on the National Mall). And I can’t exactly describe what it is. It’s not strictly about history, nor about nature, but in its collections of artifacts one can see pieces of actual life at sometime, somewhere in America.

There are some serious lessons (I remember one year seeing an exhibit on the camps where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during WWII), but most have nothing deep to say. Many are objects that, in themselves, would be of little interest to me. (I remember a certain display of election campaign memorabilia, for instance.) Yet, taken all together, they are intriguing glimpses of a huge variety of aspects of American life.

I won’t say it’s a great movie; I don’t think anyone does. But is good entertainment, and I don’t regret the price of the ticket at all.

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