MOVIE REVIEW: NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: SHAWN LEVY / SCREENPLAY: DAVID GUION, MICHAEL HANDELMAN / STARRING: BEN STILLER, ROBIN WILLIAMS, REBEL WILSON, OWEN WILSON, STEVE COOGAN / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 19TH
Ben Stiller and his band of merry men are back for a third bout of nocturnal museum-based madness, this time with their sights set firmly on London and the British Museum. The majority of the impressive cast of the first two films return, with Secret of the Tomb being one of the last opportunities to see the late, great Robin Williams on screen. Anyone wondering how this franchise hadn’t fizzled out by now will also be pleased to hear that this almost appears to be a trilogy closer, with characters declaring ominously that ‘The End Will Come’ right from the very start.
In this latest outing for Larry the New York Natural History Museum’s night guard, things seem to be looking up. As the museum is ready to open its new planetarium, Larry has promised to deliver a star studded spectacular of ‘special effects’ featuring his very much alive museum exhibits. All the usual gang have their part to play, including Teddy, Attila, Pocahontas, mini-men Otto and Jed, and Rex the skeleton dinosaur. It just so happens that on opening night, the magic tablet that grants them all life begins to corrode, causing all the exhibits to go on the fritz with disastrous consequences. Ricky Gervais’ museum manager is given the boot for the fiasco and Larry is forced to travel to the British Museum in order to find out the secrets of the tablet from ancient Egyptian exhibit Ahkmenrah’s parents.
Opening with an Egypt-set prequel, the cause of the tablet’s corrosion right at this critical juncture in the present day is never really fully explained, despite us now being given the opportunity to see its excavation in 1938. The decaying prop is really just an excuse to get the plot moving and get Larry and his friends across the pond to a Clash-soundtracked and luxuriously-lensed London. Along for the ride are all of the big stars - Williams, Coogan, Wilson, and Dexter the monkey - but what lifts Secret of the Tomb out of the comedy pit is a few new inclusions to the club.
Stiller gets to explore his wild side and love of a good wig by taking a dual role, this time playing the square hero Larry but also caveman exhibit La. His scenes with himself could smack of indulgence but Stiller’s knack for silliness make them some of the funniest scenes. Dan Stephens dazzles as the British Museum’s Sir Lancelot, who teams up with the American exhibits to help them on their quest. Stephens (so good in The Guest earlier this year) adds comedy to his ever-expanding CV, getting most of the best lines and delivering a frequently hilarious performance. Larry’s teen son Nick, played by Skyler Gisondo, nails his awkward but tender relationship with his worrying father, while Rebel Wilson does her usual shtick, making any line to leave her mouth and every facial expression at least worth a snigger.
Secret of the Tomb will thrill kids with its manic special effects-infused set-pieces, but also has time for a (probably baffling for younger kids) quick and inventive dive into an Escher drawing for a fight between some characters. Even with its already bulging cast, it still crams in a couple of unexpected cameos that are best left as surprises. One cameo in particular, gives a major star the chance to play himself and brilliantly mock one of his most famous alter-egos.
Most unexpectedly of all, Secret of the Tomb almost manages to end with a welcome splash of poignancy. The finale feels as though the franchise is wrapping up and that there really will be no more Nights at the Museum. However, cramming in more endings than The Return of the King, director Shawn Levy undoes a little of the final farewell with an unnecessary final scene, particularly as what came before was given an extra layer of finality by the passing of Robin Williams.
Despite this slight misstep leaving the door wide open for further sequels, Secret of the Tomb is far too good a film to bury this franchise, so it won’t be at all a surprise if it’s dug up again in years to come.
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10
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