I had no desire to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009). The original Night at the Museum (2006), was fine. Set at the American Museum of Natural History, it had some fun with the various collections of old stuff stored at the museum. You know the kinds of things of which I speak, right? Items that are interesting usually only to retirees and nerds like myself, the kind of places that kids are dragged to for school field trips and go just so they do not have to sit in a classroom for one day. The Night at the Museum trilogy (yes, there is one more) attempts to add some levity to subjects most people would rather forget existed. And for the most part, they succeed in this endeavor. Either way, I had my fill with the first one. Then, while scrolling through Disney+ last night, I came across the other two. Luckily, I chose the next one in the series. And then there is Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams). . . .
If you are wondering what main character Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has been doing since the last movie, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian tells you right from the start. Apparently, it has not been working as a nighttime security guard at the American Museum of Natural History, as was his previous chosen occupation. Instead, he has become a small-time inventor, hawking products on infomercials. Think Billy Mays and ads for the slapchop, and you have the idea. He is successful, but he misses the exhibits at the museum that would literally come alive at night for him, the result of a cursed ancient Egyptian tablet on display among the collections. When visiting it one day just as it is about to close, he finds the majority of the wax figures and miniatures being placed in boxes for shipping. The head curator, Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais), explains that most of the exhibits are being replaced by holographic replicas. This saddens Larry because he has become friends with most of them, even if he had not been visiting as often lately due to his recent success. Later, while his son Nick (Jake Cherry) is visiting at his swanky apartment, Larry receives a phone call from the diminutive cowboy Jedidiah (Owen Wilson) that seems to indicate that they are in trouble. Vowing to do something about it, Larry travels to Washington DC, sneaks into the employee areas, snags a security guard uniform to allow him to blend in, and journeys into the storage areas beneath one of the Smithsonian museums. It is not long before he finds the container (despite the supposed labyrinth awaiting him) with the New York group frozen before sunset, and several ancient Egyptian soldiers poised outside, trying to get into the storage. They are led by Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), evil older brother of Ankmenrah (Rami Malek) who stayed behind in New York. Kahmunrah is after the tablet that brings the exhibits to life after sunset, and Larry is able to get his hands on before the moment when the inanimate becomes animate. Kahmunrah wants the tablet because above them, in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, is an ancient Egyptian gate into which the tablet fits. Putting it there, and punching in the right sequence on it, will open a portal to the underworld that will allow Kahmunrah to summon an army of minions to conquer the world. With a little help from the New York group, and a lot more from the (annoyingly, overly exaggerated, inaccurately depicted, take your pick) Amelia Earhart, he manages to get away for a while. After a brief chase the Egyptian-despot-to-be catches up with Larry and the first woman in flight (technical nickname), and attempts to put the tablet on the appropriate spot on the gate. When it does not work, Kahmunrah claims the code has been changed, and orders Larry to find a way to figure out the proper sequence. In order to give the former security guard added incentive, Kahmunrah puts Jedidiah in an hour glass, giving Larry and Amelia sixty minutes to get the translation. Where does one turn when one is under the gun (er, spear) to decipher ancient hieroglyphics? Why, Albert Einstein (voiced by Eugene Levy) bobble heads, of course. I mean, that was what the famous theoretical physicist was famous for, right? Larry and Amelia are able to get to the National Air and Space Museum where the toys are located, and return via Orville (Thomas Lennon) and Wilbur Wright’s (Robert Ben Garant) first airplane. The tablet ends up back in Kahmunrah’s hands, and with the gate open he brings in his warriors. At that moment, Amelia brings in an army of other exhibits, which are assisted by the Abraham Lincoln Memorial (voiced by Hank Azaria). Kahmunrah’s minions chicken out at the sight of the giant marble rail splitter, and eventually Kahmunrah is pushed into the netherworld along with them. Amelia then flies Larry to New York with the tablet and a few of the New York exhibits and they say their goodbyes, all seemingly in the space of fifteen minutes. The closing sequence features Larry back at the American Museum of Natural History dressed as a security guard. All the familiar faces have returned, thanks to him selling his business interests, and they become the interactive exhibits instead of holograms.
There are some sentences that this historian never thought I would never write, but are necessary when describing Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. The Abraham Lincoln Memorial fought mythical, ancient Egyptian warriors. A tiny Roman centurion named Octavius (Steve Coogan) saves the Old West cowboy Jedidiah from an hour glass. I could go on, but you get the idea. However, what wanted me to stick my fingers in my ears and loudly repeat, “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!” was every time Amelia Earhart spoke. Can she plucky? Sure. Can she have a sense of adventure? Of course. Can she be a little forward with men? Why not? But, holy smokes, the lines they gave her to say made me want to throw up in my mouth. It is like they found a book 1920s and 1930s slang, and emptied the contents out on her dialog in the script. I will credit the movie with having fun, as they did with its predecessor, with museum exhibits. I am not so sanctimonious when it comes to such things that I cannot appreciate a little levity. At the same time, I think just a tiny, itty-bitty, miniscule amount of restraint in certain parts (AHEM, Amelia Earhart!) would have well served this film.
As for the Catholic angle to Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, I will simply pause on the sage advice of the New York version of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams). Actually, it is Larry that comes up with the lines about happiness, saying that the key to it is doing what you love with people you love. Roosevelt was about to say strenuous exercise, but then settled with affirming what Larry said. Whatever. Either way, I think this is a great sentiment. Doing what you love is akin to what we Catholics refer to as a vocation, and it is something that God calls everyone to do. Marriage is the easiest one to look at it in this regard, though I would submit to you that people who live in religious communities perhaps most closely follow this ideal. However, one can say the same thing about the hermitical life, the only companionship they need (and this is a good reminder for all of us) being God. A vocation is something that Larry had been ignoring by starting his invention business. By the end of the movie, he has returned to being a security guard where he is happiest. Happiness is truly to be had in finding your niche.
I am probably the wrong person to be watching a movie like Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, though I will be watching the sequel anyway. As I said, I like the fun, but there are aspects that my brain simply cannot ignore . . . like flying between Washington DC and New York City in the space of five minutes or less in a propeller plane! Still, I am sure that much of this will go unnoticed by most audiences, and you will instead enjoy a fun movie all around.