Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is a fun enough trilogy-capper for every family or fan that has followed the series.
In Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, American Museum of Natural History night security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is now running "The Night Program," a show put on by exhibits brought to magical life, disguised as a visual effects extravaganza. During a particularly important show for the museum's benefactors, the various magical figures (Teddy Roosevelt, Rexy, Jebediah, Octavius, Dexter) begin behaving very erratically, nearly causing disaster.
Upon investigating the anomaly, Larry and his exhibit friends discover that the Golden Tablet of Pharaoh Akhmenrah - which brings the exhibits to life - is slowly corroding, breaking the magic spell. The only person who knows how to operate the tablet is Akhmenrah's father, Merenkahre, who is on exhibit at London's British Museum. Securing way to London proves easy enough, but once there, Larry and the gang find they must deal with a steadfast night guard named Tilly, as well as a whole museum of exhibits confused about why they are suddenly alive.
It's a lot to do in one night, because if the Golden Tablet isn't restored by daybreak, all of the wonderful things its magic brings to the world will be lost forever.
Director Shawn Levy returns for his third installment of the Night at the Museum franchise, offering a film that is a familiar enough version of what fans have enjoyed about the series; peppered with enough new elements to keep things fresh; with a fitting ending to this particular arc that should add a nice touch of emotion for viewers of all ages.
By now Levy, Stiller and the rest of the gang have the routine down well. In Secret of the Tomb the budget is bigger and the visual effects more advanced, and the end result is a better-looking film, crafted by a more experienced director with a more confident hand. The pacing is lean and focused, wasting no time with reestablishment (this is the third film, after all), instead getting to the adventure quick, and keeping things moving as the quest is solved.
The change of locale to London is welcome - even if the movie doesn't make full use of the new museum or its exhibits, since the quest is too moment-to-moment to allow for much exploration. Nonetheless, there are some cool new creatures and human characters (more on them later) to keep things interesting, so any qualms about lack of world-building are minor.
The script by Dinner for Schmucks writers Michael Handelman and David Guion, along with Believe writer Mark Friedman, tries to mine some deeper emotional arcs out of the basic quest storyline, but doesn't really hit the mark on a majority of the film's subplots.The new adventure is able to deliver by coasting on the series' tried-and-true formula (as well as some silly juvenile humor); however it doesn't stay focused on developing the plot beats it initially introduces, making some third act attempts at heart-swell flat and unearned.
Thematically, the film seems more concerned with a meta-minded final bow to the franchise's world and characters rather than actual lessons or statements on life or the magic of discovery (as in past installments). In short: the third chapter is probably the most hollow, narrative-wise.
As for the performances: Ben Stiller only looks slightly worn for a man in his third outing, but it's obvious that the inclusion of his caveman doppelgänger, Laaa, was a way for the actor to draw some new fun and energy from a repeat role. To be fair, though, the script leans much heavier on Stiller's co-stars, more often, making it more of an ensemble piece than ever.
Dexter the Monkey is still a scene-stealer, while Owen Wilson and Steve Googan's tiny cowboy and Roman soldier (respectively) are played just as lively (though their schtick quickly wears very thin after so much use). Other returning supporting characters like Ricky Gervais' museum head, or Rami Malek's Ahkmenrah - and a number of other people from the franchise's run - are given a moment or two to shine before receiving suitable send-offs. Seeing the late Robin Williams is especially hard throughout the film - downright haunting by the time he utters his woefully ironic final lines as steadfast Teddy Roosevelt.
As for the newcomers: Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) steals much of the show as Sir Lancelot, offering handsome charms and surprisingly sharp comedic timing to create one of the better characters in the franchise. Pitch Perfect comedienne Rebel Wilson is (literally) given very little space to work with as night guard Tilly, but pulls off her usual routine for some fun cutaway scene laughs. An appearance by Sir Ben Kingsley is also a great bit of fun for the older crowd.
In the end, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is a fun enough trilogy-capper for every family or fan that has followed the series - and even reason enough for newcomers to go back and check out the other fun evenings in different (more sophisticated) museums.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. Is now playing in theaters. It is 97 minutes long and Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language.