Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
For reasons inconsequential to the movie, it is Robin Williams’ return as Teddy Roosevelt that makes the biggest impression.
December 23, 2014
In 2006’s Night at the Museum, the exhibits and dioramas of New York City's Museum of Natural History sprang to life, surprising freshly hired evening security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller). In 2009’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Larry returned to save enlivened treasures being shipped off to storage in Washington, D.C., stumbling upon a power battle between magically resurrected pharaohs in the process.
The films, mixing an everyman protagonist with an exaggerated situation, established an easy formula of heroics and humour, history and fantasy, and quests and chaos, as suitable for all ages. Now, once more adhering to the blueprint but transporting the action to London, the trilogy crawls towards its conclusion with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.
Here, the perpetually bumbling Larry is thrust into trouble once more when an important event goes awry as a result of his animated mannequin friends. The tablet that endows the appearance of life into the museum’s trinkets is starting to corrode, courtesy of an Egyptian curse. Only specimens housed in Britain hold the answers to stopping the rot, reinstating the spell and rescuing the likenesses of famous figures from reverting to a permanent state of wax.
Adding to the antics are Larry’s English counterpart, nightwatchwoman Tilly (Rebel Wilson), and an arrogant Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), both endeavouring to thwart the visitors’ efforts for their own reasons. Returning director Shawn Levy (This Is Where I Leave You) and new scribes David Guion and Michael Handelman (Dinner for Schmucks) aren’t concerned with offering any unexpected detours in the events that follow, repeating the beats of the earlier films with a heightened emphasis on outdated pop culture jokes.
Indeed, that the feature’s biggest source of laughs — and its best surprise cameo – stems from an internet meme gives an indication of the level of comedy cultivated, as does the prominence of online cat videos to the plot. Even the usual reliance upon slapstick wavers, for worse, not for better. The odd-couple banter of Owen Wilson as an old west cowboy and Steve Coogan as a Roman soldier is similarly toned down.
Elaborate staging aside (best manifested in Secret of the Tomb in an uncharacteristically excellent M.C. Escher-inspired sequence), the biggest lure of the Night of the Museum series has always been its extensive cast. Performers express enough energy to keep the movie bubbling along; however, for reasons inconsequential to the content itself, it is Robin Williams’ return as Teddy Roosevelt that stands out. His last on-screen appearance evokes both sweetness and sorrow that far exceeds the average franchise swansong he is saddled with.