Things have been going quite swimmingly for Larry Daley since movie audiences last saw him in Night at the Museum. The former museum security guard has moved on to bigger things—namely, huge success as an inventor and CEO of his gadget company, Daley Devices, not to mention a more stable relationship with his adolescent son, Nicky.
But Larry’s still got a soft spot for his old buddies back at New York’s Museum of Natural History—Teddy Roosevelt, Attila the Hun, the diminutive Wild West railroader/cowboy Jedediah Smith, the equally miniature Roman general Octavius, Sacajawea—all of whom continue to come to life nightly courtesy of a mystical, magical Egyptian tablet.
So when he stops in to say hello one evening, Larry is disturbed to discover that his comrades have been packed into wooden crates and are awaiting a truck to transport them to their new home: the Smithsonian’s “Federal Archives.” And they’re going without the tablet.
Or so Larry thinks.
The next you know, Larry receives a frantic call from Washington. It’s Jedediah. Somehow, the clever capuchin monkey from the first film managed to steal the tablet before they were shipped off. And so everything and everyone in the Smithsonian’s 19 cavernous buildings has come alive.
Paintings. Sculptures. Planes. Rockets. Amelia Earhart. Abraham Lincoln. General George Custer. Even Rodin’s pensive bronze intellectual, The Thinker, resumes his musings. But some less-than-savory characters crawl their way to consciousness as well: Ivan the Terrible. Al Capone. Napoleon Bonaparte.
Rallying those baddies is a flamboyantly eeeviiilll pharaoh named Kahmunrah. Not only does he aspire to become Supreme Grand Über Leader of All Things Smithsonian, Kahmunrah hopes to use the tablet to open a portal into the underworld, unleashing a battalion of undead nasties who’ll help him conquer the entire world.
Cue a megalomaniacal cackle.
Only Larry and an unlikely band of historical allies, Miss Earhart chief among them, stand between the crazed pharaoh and his dark dreams. As the sun sets on the Smithsonian, a battle royal of historic (and comedic) proportions commences.
Larry has achieved greater success than he ever thought he would. But with the help of Amelia and Pres. Roosevelt, he realizes that accomplishment is empty if you’re not doing something that truly makes you happy. Amelia tells him, “If you’re not excited by [what you do], why do it?”
One of the film’s main messages, then, has to do with identifying what you really want and pursuing it with all your heart—even if it doesn’t fit the world’s idea of success. In the end, Larry affirms, “The key to happiness is doing what you love with people you love.” The film also suggests that our culture’s infatuation with what’s new and novel can be detrimental to our ability to discern what matters most. (Larry, for example, misses out on an important life lesson because he’s distracted by his cell phone.)
Just as he did in the first film, Roosevelt offers nuggets of wisdom. He exhorts Larry, “Sometimes the greatest change brings about even greater opportunity.” And he says to the New York museum’s inhabitants, “This is our last night as a family. I don’t want to see it squandered in self-pity.”
One of the more touching scenes involves Gen. Custer confessing to Larry, “I’ll always be known for my biggest failure.” But Larry encourages him that there’s still time to make another, better “last stand.”
When Jedediah gets captured by Kahmunrah, his loyal friend Octavius cribs a line from The Last of the Mohicans, saying, “Just stay alive. I will find you!” On the White House lawn, Octavius obliquely praises the president with this line: “They say a good man rules this union.”
The Tuskegee Airmen thank Amelia for her pioneering example. And Abe Lincoln quotes Matthew 12:25, giving Larry a strategy hint for defeating the bad guys: “Just remember, son, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.'”
Nicky resourcefully uses the Internet and a cell phone to help his dad find his way through the maze of Smithsonian buildings, hallways and tunnels.
As in the first film, a mystical Egyptian tablet brings museum inhabitants to life at sunset. But we also learn from Kahmunrah that the tablet’s most formidable power is opening a gateway into the underworld. There resides a squadron of hawk-headed creatures that he says will be a part of his “evil army of the damned.” Confronting a squirrel, tiny Octavius blurts out a mocking prayer of sorts, “Jupiter, protect me!” Cupids are referred to as “gods of love.”
Larry shares several kisses with Amelia. And Jedediah and Octavius are ensconced in Larry’s chest pockets during one of those smooches. After the embrace, Jedediah proudly proclaims, “I don’t know about you fellas, but this cowboy got to second base.” During a couple other kisses, we see naked, flying, Cupid-like cherubs.
Teddy Roosevelt boasts of his romance with Sacajawea, “Love has transpired since your last visit.” For her part, Amelia flirts with Larry, saying things like, “I quite like the way you’re holding me” and pointing out his inability to take his “cheaters [eyes] off my chassis.” Amelia also sports a pair of very tight pants throughout the film.
Elsewhere, Al Capone asks Kahmunrah why he’s wearing a dress. And Kahmunrah calls Jedediah his “little midnight cowboy,” a likely reference to a controversial 1969 movie that involves (among other things) a male prostitute.
The Thinker is apparently naked, but nothing of anatomical delicacy is shown. A partially clothed female statue near him keeps shifting her robe, as if trying to better cover herself.
Slapstick violence and faux-intense fights with few real consequences are the name of the game in Battle of the Smithsonian. Several melees involve lots of folks trading blows and/or skirmishing with swords and other weapons. But, with one exception noted in the spoiler at the end of this section, there are never any real casualties.
Larry gets tossed about a fair bit. Jedediah is in peril when Kahmunrah drops him into an hourglass that slowly buries the little guy in sand. A duel—Larry with a flashlight and Kahmunrah with a curved sword—ends with the pharaoh in Larry’s headlock (a move he also puts on a security guard). Honest Abe, who strides into battle from the Lincoln Memorial, shoos Kahmunrah’s hawk-headed beasties back into the abyss. A huge octopus’ flailing tentacles knock people around. Jedediah and Octavius go on a slo-mo hack-and-slash spree, mutilating opponents’ boots in a scene that deliberately recalls the movie 300. Larry and Amelia crash the Wright Brothers’ first plane through a huge pane of glass.
Three Stooges-style slapstick includes Dexter the monkey slamming Larry’s fingers with a box lid … twice. A slapfest between Larry and two monkeys plays off of a similar scene in the first film. Custer gets knocked out of a motorcycle sidecar when he fails to duck his head under a shelf. Al Capone’s repeated slapping of an Einstein bobblehead is played for humor.
[Spoiler Warning] Kahmunrah is thrust through the portal into the underworld, and we watch as his body apparently disintegrates.
Characters use variants of “d–n” twice and “god” about half-a-dozen times. Holding a pitchfork, Larry evokes an obscenity when he hollers, “I will fork you.” As in the first film, there’s quite a bit of name-calling involving words such as “stupid” and the German “dummkopf.” We also hear “dadgumit” and teen boys saying “sucks.”
Roosevelt tells Larry, “Sometimes it’s more noble to tell a small lie than deliver a painful truth”—a questionable conviction portrayed in a positive light. Later, Larry puts that idea to work when he chooses not to be entirely forthright with Amelia.
Amelia goes a bit too far while urging Larry to enjoy himself. It’s one thing to strive toward making a living by doing what you love. It’s another to say that the only things that matter in life are the ones that are “fun.” She tells Larry that she “became a pilot for the fun of it,” then asks, “Why else would we do anything?” The film frames Amelia’s sassy, free-spirited personality in a very appealing light, but her feel-good personal philosophy probably deserves more critical thinking.
Larry intentionally engineers a comedic scuffle with an earnest, clueless and rude security guard so that he can nab the guard’s security badge. He uses the badge to gain access to the Smithsonian’s secure areas, including a locker room where he “borrows” a guard outfit.
One of Larry’s employees says he’s willing to skip his daughter’s birthday party in an effort to prepare an important product pitch for Wal-Mart.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian can pretty much be summarized with one word: more. Virtually everything the first film offered we get more of in this sequel. More characters. More battles. More intensity. More slapstick. More monkeys. More history. More fun.
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 dialogue 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. There are caveats, too, though. (Of course.)
While there is definitely more of what makes a film a rollicking good popcorn flick, there are also a few more content concerns. We hear a couple more profanities than in the first film. Wink-wink sexual references are incrementally more frequent. And part of the plot revolves around a dark spiritual underworld filled with “armies of the damned.”
Those things still won’t be fatal flaws for most families. Most will see this film as a well-told and enjoyable story, one that encourages viewers to do what they love, with the people they love.
And they’ll also notice that, just as in the first film, Battle of the Smithsonian once again helps us see why history is important. And that’s a really good thing, because knowing what’s come before matters even more these days, in a world that often tries to replace things of substance—friendship, loyalty, family—with some sort of virtual facsimile. Spending an evening in this Museum ultimately reminds us how important “old-fashioned” values really are.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.