For research purposes, obviously, the Dr and I went on a date to see Night at the Museum 2. Spent most of the weekend proofing 310 pages of a new book, with the film ticking through the back of my brain. Here are some too-serious thoughts.
It should really be “Night at the Museums”, as night-watchman Ben Stiller leaves the American Museum of Natural History in New York for the Smithsonian in Washington DC – which, he reminds us, is really 19 museums arranged round a lawn (and, in the movie, sharing underground vaults). Though the National Gallery of Art isn’t part of the Smithsonian. And also Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” is in the Chicago Art Institute. But hush. It’s only a movie.
It’s a fun and funny movie, with a massive cast it struggles to fully accommodate. Much of the cast of the first film spends most of this one stuck in a crate. Then there are weird cameos – a couple of would-be villains from other franchises, and a scene with the Smithsonian’s own guard. Both are funny at first but just go on and on…
There are some great comic moments and absurd characters and performances, but I kept feeling it was a rough draft, everything in the script filmed and edited into order before the judicious pruning.
The film is full of incongruous, odd things: a love interest who can’t be a love interest because she’s a museum object; Stiller leaving his son – so crucial to the first film – home alone in another city while he jets off to have this adventure…
A Doctor Who episode like Love & Monsters makes a virtue of the strange incongruity of real life; here everything’s put neatly back in the box. In the final scene, the awkward love interest gets swapped for a real woman played by the same actress (no mention of the artefact-woman flying off stiff-lipped to her death).
And it’s really talkie. Like American football, as soon as there’s a bit of action and excitement, it stops to discuss it in depth. There is much tedious guff about the brilliance of America – and obviously no mention of the cultural imperialism implicit in the museums’ display of precious objects from all round the world. What’s the provenance, say, of this ancient Egyptian portal to Hell?
For all the moral is Stiller realising the nobility of his vocation in guarding these artefacts, the ending depends on a big brawl where a whole load of old stuff gets trashed. The Dr watched in horror – at one point, as the first ever airplane smashed into a huge cabinet of precious things, she even grabbed my hand.
At the end, the museum is bustling with thrilled and interested public from a cross-section of demographic groups – a museum’s happy ending. But what does the mannequin Theodore Roosevelt offer that his (evil) computer hologram version didn’t? He tells the kids the years he was born and died, and we see he rode a horse… The hologram’s just the same, but you don’t need to stay up late to see it.
The museums’ presidents and cowboys get to offer stoic wisdom, but it never really suggests why museums might be important or worth preserving. The artefacts here are only of interest because they come to life.