The Night at the Museum trilogy shows signs of wear and tear in its third and final film, Secret of the Tomb. It’s not that the movie takes a radical departure from the successful formula of its predecessors but that it follows it too closely. Having exploited the possibilities of animated wax figures, stampeding dinosaur bones, and interactive historical photos, the last movie is left recycling old tricks and scraping the barrel for new ones. Unfortunately, the efforts come up short, though the filmmakers have the wherewithal to bring the series to its natural conclusion.
Thanks to the Smithsonian’s expansive network of museums and galleries, the second film opened up possibilities for night watchman Larry (Ben Stiller) and his museum exhibit friends who come to life at sundown. Neither the British Museum nor the city of London, however, are ever used to their full potential in this banal story that has the gang leaping across the pond to save a magical Egyptian tablet.
Conjured centuries ago by the Egyptian moon god, this secret of the tomb was meant to restore life so that the pharaoh’s family would never be separated by death. Instead it’s mostly been used to resurrect displays at the Museum of Natural History in New York. But as corrosion sets in, the exhibits begin to find themselves in an advancing state of rigor mortis. The key to restoring the tablet lies with Pharaoh Ahkmenrah’s (Rami Malek) parents, who reside at the British Museum.
Once in London, Larry and his gang, which includes President Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), a cowboy (Owen Wilson), a Roman centurion (Steve Coogan), Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck), and Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), meet Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens, proving he can swashbuckle even if he can’t drive). The good knight helps them battle their way to the Egypt room but is preoccupied by his own quest to find the Holy Grail. The exhibits rapidly deteriorate as the night wears on and they find some newly awakened enemies working against them.
This film tries to distinguish itself by outdoing the first two, and the fights are certainly more explosive. A run-in with a Triceratops skeleton wreaks far more carnage than Larry’s first encounter with the T. Rex and makes the latter look like a Sunday romp. Meanwhile, a multi-headed snake writhes its way across the entire screen, lashing out not only at Larry and his friends but at the audience as well.
Yet gripping as these sequences may be, they hardly distinguish the film from any other kid’s action flick. Nor does Secret of the Tomb do much to set it apart from itself. Besides a dinosaur chase, iconic stone structures come to life and Larry again finds himself escaping into a piece of artwork to throw off his opponent as he did in Smithsonian. Even the comedic, oddball security guard reappears, this time in the form of the ever-funny Rebel Wilson.
Larry’s character finally gets a meatier role than glorified stage manager though as he guides not just his friends through danger but also his teenage son, Nicky (Skyler Gisondo), into adulthood. Nicky’s desire for independence leads him towards a different path, however, and it’s one his father isn’t thrilled about. Stiller comes off as a caring and frustrated parent, but he can’t generate enough emotional impact on his own. The pharaoh’s reunification with his parents offers a touching complement to Larry’s storyline. At least that’s probably the main takeaway there; issues of colonialism are scratched at but nary a mark is left.
Prod: Shawn Levy, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe
Dir: Shawn Levy
Writer: Dave Guion, Michael Handelman
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Dan Stevens, Rebel Wilson, Skyler Gisondo, Rami Malek, Patrick Gallagher, Mizuo Peck, Ben Kingsley, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Anjali Jay, Andrea Martin, Brad Garrett, Hugh Jackman, Alice Eve
Time: 97 min
Country: United States