Same message, mostly the same characters, and more of the same while being slightly different and raising the stakes. It’s a formulaic sequel, but it works every bit as well as the original did.
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) finally has his ship come in. His career as an inventor finally takes off, and a series of must-have gadgets builds into a business that pays much better than the night watchman at a “living” museum. Still, he visits his old friends when he can, until he learns that many of the exhibits are being sent into permanent storage down in Washington D.C. Not long after, cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) phones Larry at home to tell him that the enchanted Egyptian tablet that brings exhibits to life has been stolen. Now a new villain at the Smithsonian museum has come back to life with a plan for world domination… unless a former night watchman know as Larry can stop him.
Ben Stiller does his hero thing best when there are plenty of others to take the heat off being the main character. A new interest provides a kid-friendly romance in Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) while Hank Azaria returns to not only voice some of the museum’s exhibits but to play the heavy himself, Kahmunrah. Like the Jurassic Park films, the effect of seeing the museum come alive isn’t as exciting, but unlike Jurassic Park, WHAT comes alive (and in what capacity) keeps audience engaged and guessing. Director Shawn Levy did such a good job keeping the ensemble cast and plot flowing the first time around that this sequel must have seemed easier by comparison.
Of course, being in the Smithsonian, audiences get to learn that it isn’t one museum but a complex, all connected underground at various points and creating a maze-like battleground for the story. Bill Hader steals most of his scenes as General George Armstrong Custer while Amy Adams glows in her portrayal of Amelia Earhart (and oddly channeling a young Nicole Kidman throughout her performance). While the story misses the three old conspirator guards from the original, a slight detour into Egyptian folklore provides a not-too threatening final encounter, not to mention cameos by villains slightly out of their genre but genuinely on display in the Smithsonian.
The sequel seems less enamored this time with teaching historic facts than it does with entertaining audiences, but it’s hard to believe that younger viewers wouldn’t become enchanted in seeing everything that flies in the Air and Space Museum suddenly roaring to life. The battles are bloodless, the threats are only a little menacing, but the adventure is set to high, so this is the family film entertainment of the season thus far. Where the franchise goes after this anyone’s guess, but you can bet someone’s already pitching ideas.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)