This review is based on having been to see the film in the cinema with my family.
Although the film can stand on its' own, it is a sequel to the original "A Night at the Museum" film (2006), which was very loosely based on the book by by Milan Trenc. There are a lot of little details which will be amusing or poignant to viewers who had seen the first film but will go completely over the heads of those who have not. I would advise anyone who is thinking of going to see this and hasn't watched the first film to rent or buy that one first.
Both films are based on the idea of museums in which all the exhibits come to life at night. Where the first film was played occasionally for drama but mostly for laughs, this film is played for laughs from start to finish. It's no great work of art, but it aims to be funny and entertaining and often succeeds.
As someone who liked the first film a lot, I didn't think this was quite up to the same standard, but my seven-year old twins really enjoyed it, while my wife and I coped by switching off our critical faculties, ignoring the holes in the plot, and just enjoying the humour.
With the exceptions of Carla Gugino as Rebecca the receptionist, and of Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs as the outgoing night guards, almost all the star-studded cast of the first film get at least cameo roles in this one.
Ben Stiller returns as the central character Larry Daley, Jake Cherry as his son Nick, and Ricky Gervais as Dr. McPhee, the Director of the New York museum of natural history.
Robin Williams reprises his role as the statue of President Teddy Roosevelt, Patrick Gallagher as the statue of Attila The Hun, and Mizuo Peck as the statue of Sacajawea (the Indian guide who guided Lewis and Clark, while Rami Malek returns for a brief cameo of his role as Pharoah Ahkmenrah.
Those who liked the previous film will probably be pleased to learn that, apart from Ben Stiller, the characters from that film who get the most significant parts in this one are the tiny Roman and cowboy leaders, Octavius and Jedediah, played by Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson - and this time Wilson gets the billing he should have had in the first film.
New characters in this film include a very feisty statue of Amelia Earhart, played by Amy Adams, wearing a pair of form fitting trousers which will give dads a good reason to follow her scenes closely, especially when the camera angles are from behind.
Also joining in the fun are Bill Hader as a statue of General George Armstrong Custer, and Hank Azaria who gets three roles: he plays the film's villain, Kahmunrah, who is the elder brother of Pharoah Akmenrah from the first film, Rodin's statue "The Thinker" and President Abe Lincoln's statue from the Lincoln Memorial.
Former World Heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman has a cameo role as himself.
The sequel is set some two years after the original film. Larry Daley, who as an unsuccessful inventor took a job as Night Guard at the New York museum of Natural History, has finally managed to become successful and is now CEO of his own company. He occasionally returns to the museum to see his old friends. At the start of the film he comes back to find almost all of them being packed away in boxes. The board has decided to replace most of the exhibits with holographic projections and put the originals into storage in the federal archives underneath the Smithsonian Institute at Washington D.C.
The gold plate of Akmenrah which causes everything in the museum to come to life at night was supposed to stay in New York: but a naughty monkey grabs it, and it is taken to Washington. Larry gets a phone call, and realises that everything in the largest museum in the world is going to come to life. Worse, one of the exhibits in the Smithsonian is the mummy of the brother of Akmenrah, who knows what the plate can do, and is out for revenge, to conquer the world, etc ...
As you would expect from a film with such a big name cast, there is some really good acting: Stiller does a good job of playing "straight man" to the absurd events around him, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson are brilliant as the tiny heroes, and Hader is mostly entertainingly mad as Custer, though he is given a rather poignant serious scene towards the end of the film. Hank Azaria repeatedly cracked me up by playing the Egyptian baddie with a lisping parody of an effete English aristocratic accent.
But probably the best performance is by Amy Adams, who quite steals the show with her zestful performance as the statue of Amelia Earhart and would have been worth watching even without the daringly tight trousers.
Quality of the humour varies enormously, some of it is pretty basic slapstick such as Ben Stiller getting slapped on the cheek by a pair of monkeys, but one or two moments and lines, which I had better not describe for fear of spoiling them, were absolute classics.
Not everyone will like this film: it has taken something of a caning from the critics, and anyone who tries to take it seriously will end up picking it to pieces. However, most children aged between about six and twelve will probably love it, especially if they liked the previous film. Adults who can suspend disbelief, forget how ridiculous the whole thing is, and just enjoy the ride should also be able to enjoy it. I will buy the DVD for my children when it comes out.