Cinema Reviews

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb Review


To start off with a confession: I never expected to like this franchise. Judging by the trailer, Night at the Museum (the first one) it looked like the kind of film that Ben Stiller has done way too many of: binges on silly and crude jokes at the expense of plot density and Stiller’s characters who, a few exceptions aside, are never entirely likeable. To make matters worse, Night at the Museum seemed to add the standard special effects that ILM tends to churn out these days, and a cast which includes so many Hollywood a-listers, it’s enough to make anyone suspicious. If you have to try this hard to sell something…. well.

I was wrong. Night at the Museum surprises not only with a solid (albeit pretty standard) plot, it also boasts some state-of-the-art special effects and seriously likeable characters – which absolutely include Stiller’s Larry. “Rexie”, the T-rex skeleton obsessed with playing fetch is just as much fun as Dexter, the capuchin monkey in need of nappies and training. Owen Wilson’s and Steve Cogan’s self-ironic performances as Jedediah and Octavius are delightful and Teddy Roosevelt seems the kind of character just waiting to be brought to life by Robin Williams.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. The plot is thinner, some of the jokes recycled, others hammered home so violently they actually die. Yet the effects again make for cinema magic, Ben Stiller continues to entertain (and be likeable) as Larry, and all favourite characters are back – with a couple of new additions thrown in for good fun, most notably Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart (the character is terrible but kudos to Adams for pulling it off) and Hank Azaria as Kahmunra (What can I say? The man just does camp antagonists with a lisp extremely well.)

So by the time it got to the third and final instalment Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb I was actually looking forward to what – box office successes aside – probably counts as a guilty pleasure, unless you have kids.

The film opens in Cairo in 1938 at the site of the Akhmenra expedition, where a young boy accidentally discovers the by now well-known magical tablet. A shady character makes a dark prophecy: if the tablet is removed, the end will come. Obviously, the archaeologists remove the tablet. Again, pretty standard stuff that nods to Stargate, Indiana Jones and The Mummy, but does so in an endearing and visually gratifying way.

Cut to present-day New York where Stiller’s Larry reprises his role as night guard at the Museum of Natural History, although he is now also the stage manager for the famous operation that the museum’s night show has become. With Larry and his friends ready and set for success, something goes horribly wrong: the warning uttered in the opening scene is about to divulge its meaning and it’s life and death (again, but this time for real!) for our old friends. The solution: find Akhmenra’s father who is the only one privy to the deeper secrets of the tablet. Unfortunately, he was shipped off to the Museum of London decades ago by the same archaeologists who discovered his tomb. With his teenage son Nick and the exhibits in tow, (minus Rexie but plus a new Neanderthal called La), Larry sets off for London where the museum comes to life the moment the tablet enters its vicinity. Sound familiar? That’s because the same thing happened in Smithsonian. However, Tomb manages to introduce if not a new take on its subject, then at least some creepy exhibit action we haven’t seen before (similarities with The Walking Dead are probably intentional). Chased by yet another skeleton dinosaur – a triceratops named Trixie – Larry and friends are rescued by Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) and, after a completely unnecessary detour (which Lancelot constantly points out as such), they finally meet Akhmenra’s parents.

Cliché abounds. Rebel Wilson does her best as a dreadful female Cockney-version of Larry from the first film. It’s not her fault that the character will probably offend anyone who isn’t American. To an extent, that was probably the idea, but it’s too crudely executed to work. London itself is – courtesy of a montage of all our most beloved landmarks – characterised in a terribly Disneyfied way.

Unsurprisingly, the film falls right into a couple of one-more-for-the-money traps. Sadly, this time superfluous action sequences do come at the expense of plot, but it is to the film’s credit that it draws attention to that particular flaw. Some of the humour is perfectly groan-worthy and the jokes are stretched almost beyond endurance. The father-son conflict between Larry and his son Nick, Larry and his reluctantly accepted waxwork son-self La (yes, weird but purposefully so), and Akhmenra and his father (Ben Kingsley, the obvious type to cast for the sage pharaoh) is something we have seen many times before. The female characters, like in previous instalments, do not come off well at all. Mizuo Peck reprises her role as noble savage Sacagawea who does nothing much except look benign and swoon over Teddy Roosevelt. It is men that run this show but for what it’ worth, they do it well and admirably tongue-in-cheek (Stevens takes the digs at his good looks in his stride and with plenty of good humour), and in the end it was all about the monkey anyway.

The third instalment in the series doesn’t live up to the first one, but it beats the second. While the premise gets repetitive, the film takes on board much of what made the first instalment a delightful surprise and allowed the second one to do well despite its weaknesses. There is enough charm to make Secret of the Tomb enjoyable for both young and adult audiences. Thanks to a superb cast of actors who all reprise their roles with undiminished energy, some truly enchanting effects, and a great soundtrack, the film is for the most part thoroughly entertaining. And there is one cameo in there that is so laugh-out-loud brilliant that it instantly raises trebles the enjoyment. If you appreciate a bit of kids-friendly adventure, certainly if you liked the first (even if not the second) Night at the Museum, you will have a great time watching this – you may even feel a little sad that t­­­­he end has now definitely come.

Anne Korn

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