In Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) sums up Ben Stiller’s appeal quite well. When he first meets Larry Daley (Stiller), Lancelot tells Larry he reminds him of a “fool” he liked back in Camelot because of the way Larry is able to make him laugh with the simplest of expressions and his dry, monotonous delivery. As the everyman, amusement comes from the exasperated way he reacts to the absurdness around him. Stiller isn’t always the straight man, but when he is, he emanates the aura of a best friend, one you can relate to and want to hang out with, making the more outrageous characters and situations that much more tolerable. It works, and because of that, director Shawn Levy doesn’t see any reason to change anything else in the franchise either.
In this third, and apparently final, installment in the Night at the Museum series, Larry is teamed with his requisite band of merry men as he travels to the British Museum of Natural History to track down Ahkmenrah’s (Rami Malek) parents and find out why the tablet that brings all of the museum artifacts to life is corroding, causing ill-timed havoc among the exhibits. In a vain attempt at including the big six mainstays, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), and Dexter (Crystal the Monkey) stow away in the crate Larry uses to transport Ahkmenrah to the British Museum, setting up how empty their presence really is.
I have no issue with the time-honored tradition of a sequel rounding up all of the original cast members, so long as their characters have a purpose — which in this case is to aid the hero in his journey and continue to have individual growth. Including them for the sake of property recognition makes them arbitrary filler and takes away from the focus of the film, which like all of the Museum films is about figuring out one’s identity and becoming more than you allow yourself to be. In the original film, that idea played into every one of these characters. They each had very defined arcs that allowed them to breath life and soul into their characters. Without that, they become dull representations of their former selves, adding nothing new to the proceedings. The true heart of the story is, as always, the relationship between Larry and his son, Nick (Skyler Gisondo, replacing Jake Cherry for some unknown reason), who wants to take a year to DJ in Spain instead of going to college. Like any parent, Larry doesn’t want to let go of that little boy who was once so enamored by his father, and this adventure may just be the last chance to bond. At no point does any of the returning supporting cast (except for Ackmenrah) add substance to the development of this particular relationship.
The characters that do add importance to this arc are the new faces, including Ackmenrah’s father, Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley), and one final stowaway, a neanderthal created to look like Larry, dubbed Laaa (also played by Stiller, proving he has the chops to be one of the crazy sidekicks as well as the straight man at the same time). But the most significant figure is Lancelot, a terrific addition to the series who continually overrides Larry’s objections and fatherly advice, telling Nick that at his age, he has the right to fight to be his own man. The interplay between Lancelot and both Larry and Nick fit perfectly into the series with genuine aplomb. Had Levy been brave enough to leave behind the main band and focus all of his energy into this triangle, the film might have had more time to concentrate on the real reason they were all there — stopping the tablet from losing its power.
But to essentially say farewell to the series, Levy decided to waste time on misadventures that ultimately have no purpose (such as Jedidiah and Octavius’s adventure through the heating ducts) and stuffing the film with returning players, including Rickey Gervais as the Museum’s jumpy curator, Dr. McPhee, and Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs as the original trio of guards at the New York Museum of Natural History. Their appearance here is fun (though to see Mickey Rooney for one last tirade is as bittersweet as watching Robin Williams in one of his final performances), but the driving force behind their return relies on heavy-handed nostalgia. Levy does give Van Dyke a secondary reason to be there by opening the film with a sequence that takes place some sixty years ago during the excavation of Ackmenrah’s tomb and the accusation of the tablet (and wastes Matt Frewer in a throw-away cameo appearance that could have been given to any no-name, low level actor), but having a young Cecil stumble upon the tomb so that he can later inform Larry about where Ackmenrah’s parents were sent makes the entire thing slightly forced.
Even so, Levy somehow manages to find a way to make the film as entertaining and delightful as the previous two installments. Though I would have liked to have seen more of Merenkahre and Rebel Wilson’s needy security guard, the film isn’t any better or worse than Battle at the Smithsonian, which was elevated by Amy Adams’s light and airy Amelia Earhart and Hank Azaria’s manipulative and inept Pharaoh. All of the actor’s make the material they’re given count, and Levy takes great care in keeping the atmosphere light and adventurous, highlighted by the return of both old gags (like showing how certain “normal” things affect Jedediah and Octavius) and new laughs, as well as some nice emotional moments. It may sound weird, but one of the most heartfelt aspects was in how far the relationship between Larry and Dexter has grown. Add in a killer cameo by a huge star (which I won’t spoil here) and Levy turns an otherwise lackluster sequel into a fitting end to a trilogy that really only merited a single adventure.
My Grade: B+
Next week, new movies include Into The Woods, The Gambler,
The Interview and Unbroken. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments be