********* 5 out of 10 *********
Director: Shawn Levy
Actors: Ben Stiller, Robbin Williams, Owen Wilson, Dan Stevens
When Night at the Museum released in 2006, it brought forward a refreshingly fresh idea of a museum coming to life at night which a recently appointed night guard learns to deal with. Theodore Roosevelt atop a horse, Sacagawea staring in the distance, Roman generals and Wild West cowboys battling, Neanderthal men getting excited by fire, a mischievous capuchin monkey, and the roaming skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex — there is a lot of exciting stuff happening here that made for an adventure worth remembering. The success of the movie led to a sequel, as is a norm nowadays, and to keep things fresh, newer exhibits were brought to life — Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Einstein bobbleheads, Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible and an evil Pharaoh, to name a few. The sequel was made on a bigger production budget but earned lesser than the original, and yet, was a success. The studios should have called it quits then. But just like someone who continues to play at the casino until the winnings are lost, this movie series seems to be headed in that direction. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is an unnecessary sequel which does not even make the effort like its predecessor of bringing in something fresh to the plot. Releasing five and a half years after the second movie, it looks like a rehash of all that has already been told in the guise of a flimsy storyline, and steals away whatever joy you would have felt on seeing some of the historical characters come to life back in 2006.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb has Larry (Ben Stiller) overseeing a nighttime event at the Museum of Natural History. But things do not go smoothly as the museum artifacts which have come alive, start to behave erratically. Larry figures out that their strange behaviour is attributable to the corrosion encroaching the museum’s Tablet of Ahkmenrah. To protect the tablet and thus his friends in the museum, Larry sets out to unravel the mystery behind the tablet. This quest will take him all the way to the British Museum in London where he will encounter newer dangers as once again he races against time to save his friends.
There is not much novelty left in showing the same museum characters come to life for the third time. This is specially felt in the initial moments of the movie which tries to reintroduce the characters one by one, but ends up becoming a very stretched and unfunny scene. The mystery of the corroding tablet is then meant to stir things up, but it really falls flat. There is no thrill, no suspense, no anxiety; Larry’s efforts to uncover the mystery bring up easy answers, and since things are so easy, all the script does is make the characters take a detour in the British Museum so that the movie does not end in less than an hour. Some Asian artifacts are thrown in the mix to add an Oriental flavor, a reference to Pompeii is made to showcase a historical event (though the scene with the overflowing lava is historically inaccurate as Pompeii had been buried under volcanic ash), and an Englishman in the form of Sir Lancelot is brought to life so as to add a new character. Everything though seems to have been forcefully done, as if they were checkboxes that had to be ticked. There is a father-son bonding theme attempted too, that feels like an afterthought. It is a very weakly written screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handelman who have worked for the first time on the franchise, and unfortunately chose to stick to the themes in the previous movies rather than attempting something different which the franchise desperately needed if it had any chance of continuing.
Shawn Levy has directed all the movies in the franchise, and while I admired the way he had handled the first film in which comedy and adventure came together in a colorful fashion, I believe he has overstayed in his director’s role. A new director might have conceived something different for this third instalment, and even though continuity is loved in franchises, Night at the Museum series is one such franchise where continuity would simply lead to boredom. Shawn Levy has not been able to pull off anything big in recent years as his most recent works, The Internship and This is Where I Leave You, have not been successful, and so such a dull attempt with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is the last thing he would have wanted. The movie’s best moments though come on the back of some amazing visual effects and the cinematography by Guillermo Navarro who returns to the franchise after skipping the previous instalment. The Garuda, the multi-headed serpent demon, the lion statues, and the new dinosaur skeleton, have been created with top-notch quality, and their fluid movements are eye-catching. If only such characters could have been added with more purpose in the script, then I might have been writing a different review altogether.
As the movie itself feels like an elongated and uncreative version of the previous films, so do most of the recurring actors. Ben Stiller in his blue uniform is no different than the Ben Stiller we have already seen in the previous two movies. While he is usually a joy to watch, his character of Larry in this movie is as average as they come, and coupled with an average script, this isn’t going on the list of the greatest Ben Stiller roles. The same pretty much holds true for the other cast members, Robin Williams as President Roosevelt, Owen Wilson as Jedediah, Steven Coogan as Octavius, Patrick Gallagher as Attila the Hun, Rami Malek as Ahkmenrah and Mizuo Peck as Sacajawea. The monkey Dexter though is cheerful and enjoyable to watch again; I should also mention Ricky Gervais’s brief performance as the curator of the museum, for amongst the human actors, he provides some of the genuine humorous moments of the film.
The new characters in the movie provide much needed life as well as color to the story. Dan Stevens as Sir Lancelot, eager to return back to Camelot, is impressive and will hold most of your attention. Rebel Wilson as the British security guard is energetic and funny in the typical British way and plays the only notable female character in the movie. Young Skyler Gisondo plays Larry’s son in this movie and does a believable enough role. Ben Kingsley though is lost somewhere in the messed up screenplay. In addition, there is a cameo by a well-known actor (whose appearance led to a lot of delirious shouting in the cinema hall I was seated in) that is fantastically placed in the movie and briefly makes things worth watching!
Towards the end of the film, Ben Stiller’s character says to Robin Williams’ character, “Bye, Teddy.” For anyone who has loved cinema and the people in it who have worked hard to entertain us, this particular moment would give you a lump in your throat. Who would have known back then that this line would not only be a farewell to the character but to Robin Williams himself. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb would thus hold importance in cinematic history for being Robin Williams’ final on-screen performance. I only wish that the filmmakers would have given him a better movie!