Publicity tells us that Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is the third and final film of the series, but success at the box-office usually dictates otherwise. That would explain why the seemingly conclusive ending still has something of a crack in the door ready to be opened for a fourth if need be, just in case.
In this third outing, there’s trouble at the museum. During an important gala reopening at the Hayden Planetarium, those historical figures that come alive once the sun sets run wild in front of the up-scale, socialite guests who think they’re watching a clever animatronic show. The museum relics were supposed to put on a well rehearsed, dazzling performance to impress the guests, but something odd has happened to the magic Egyptian tablet that brings everyone alive, and it all goes wrong.
The powers within the Tablet of Akmenrah are suddenly disappearing and the only way night security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) can save the day, and nights, is by taking the tablet across the pond to the British Museum to find out from Pharaoh (Ben Kingsley) what needs to be done. Accompanying him on the trip to London will be the regulars; Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila (Patrick Gallaher) and the pint sized Owen Wilson as Jedediah with Steve Coogan as Octavious, not to mention the monkey plus a new Neanderthal character called Laa who somehow looks a lot like Stiller. Of course, why any of these characters need to be with Stiller on the journey to Europe is never really clear, but without them there’d also be no movie.
Once in England, heralded by a shot of every major tourist sight of London backed by an excerpt of London Calling by The Clash, bringing the golden tablet to the British Museum causes a few new historical characters to come alive, though surprisingly, instead of the rich quality of personalities that could have made things really interesting – I’m thinking Shakespeare, maybe even Churchill – the film instead goes for Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) a fictional character from a fantasy.
Still, by presenting the sword wielding knight as a clueless comical knucklehead with a charming British accent (Lancelot is French) who thinks that the golden tablet is really the Holy Grail to be returned to Camelot, having the non-historical character running rampant makes for some funny dialog and two cleverly inventive sequences. When Roosevelt introduces himself as the President of the United States, Lancelot smiles, shakes Teddy’s hand and cheerfully declares, “I have no idea what that means.” Plus, during one chase sequence, Lancelot and Stiller’s Larry jump into an M.C. Escher lithograph of false perspectives and struggle on the steps to infinity, while in a second, even funnier sequence, Lancelot comes across the famous London Palladium where Hugh Jackman and Alice Eve are performing in a revival of Lerner and Loewe’s musical Camelot. Lancelot storms the London stage demanding to know who this Huge Ackman is and why is he pretending to be King Arthur on a fake set.
It’s amazing how common place today’s CGI special effects have become. The incredible is already taken for granted, thus scenes of unbelievable imagination and perfect execution now appear somehow regular. Years later, we can still marvel over the incredible puppetry of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad or the earlier version of Clash of the Titans – there was always something magically special about that slightly jerky movement – yet because the realistic effects of today are automatically assumed to be great, that stunning awe factor is gone. The special effects in Night at the Museum are, just as you would imagine, terrific, yet they never seem overly special (in truth they really are, we just expect them to be this good) plus framing the film with a standard screen ratio instead of a broader widescreen reduces that epic feel to something smaller and less grand.
However, look for good support from some familiar faces including Dick Van Dyke and the late Mickey Rooney, plus Britain’s Ricky Gervais as the museum curator, Australia’s Rebel Wilson in a small though funny role as the British security night guard, and Robin Williams to whom the film, along with Mickey Rooney, is dedicated.
Running at a brisk ninety minutes, Night 3 feels over before it’s even begun, but even though the idea and theme of historical characters coming alive at night in a museum worked best in the original where the gimmick was fresh, this third and maybe final episode remains a funny and pleasant enough diversion for a family audience during the holiday season. In fact, the younger you are, the better it will probably seem.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 90 Minutes Overall rating: 7 (out of 10)