Everything is bigger, better, and especially funnier in this sequel to the surprise hit Night at the Museum. In the original, Larry (Ben Stiller) was an unsuccessful inventor who took at job as a security guard at New York’s Museum of Natural History and found that all of the exhibits came to life at night. With the help of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), and the young Pharaoh Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), Larry was able to reconcile the dispute between a cowboy named Jedediah (Owen Wilson) with his neighboring diorama-mate Octavius (Steve Coogan), tame both a dinosaur skeleton and an enormous totemic sculpture, and defeat the bad guys who tried to set him up and steal the magic tablet.
As this film begins, Larry has achieved his dream of success and is doing infomercials with inventions like the glow-in-the-dark flashlight. He is so busy he seldom sees his old friends at the museum and he is shocked to find that they have all been packed up. The museum is going all 2.0 and is about to be tricked up with fancy interactive animatronics. And all of the old exhibits are being shipped off to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, not for display but for storage.
And that is how Larry, the Museum of Natural History exhibits from the first movie, and dozens of new characters from the world’s biggest museum complex in Washington DC, the Smithsonian. Ahkmenrah’s evil brother Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) wants to use the tablet to raise an army of the dead to take over the world. Larry will have to rely on his old friends and some new ones, like Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and George Armstrong Custer (Bill Hadar) to fight Kahmunrah and his allies Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), who is in black and white because he was brought to life from an old photograph.
Yes, even the pictures, paintings, the gift shop bobble heads and the sculptures come to life in this film and there is one sequence where Larry escapes into Alfred Eisenstadt’s classic photo of VJ Day in Times Square, and he later empties the water out of a Turner seascape. The special effects are exceptionally well done, but what makes the movie work is its inspired cast, all having a blast and trying to top each other. Over and over, the same old gag works just fine as the best all-star comedy cast since “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” finds the sweet spot between action and inspired silliness.