It seems ambitious.
They take the magic tablet that brings exhibits to life to a city known for its countless museums and monuments. There are plenty of options, whether it be for new characters, cast members or funny historical references.
In London, the Night at the Museum franchise has its pick of the litter. Yet the third movie, Secret of the Tomb, feels like the smallest and least exciting adventure in the entire series.
If we were hoping for a grand finale that would allow franchise to go off with a bang, this was not it. In fact, the movie and its characters feel so exhausted that everyone should just skip Secret of the Tomb entirely.
The only exception is fans who desire a proper farewell for their favourite characters or, more heart-wrenchingly, the late Mr. Robin Williams (who makes his final physical appearance in this film).
For the only thing that Secret of the Tomb gets right – and quite thankfully so – is how appropriate it is as a send-off for Williams.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
A nighttime event at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) goes terribly wrong when the exhibits behave oddly for a moment and begin attacking guests. Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) attributes this to Ahkmenrah’s magic tablet, which has begun to rust. He convinces the recently-fired Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) to allow him to take Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) and the tablet to London’s Natural History Museum, where Ahkmenrah’s father is on display, so that they may save the Manhattan museum that they care so deeply about.
Larry’s teenage son Nicky (Skyler Gisondo) and AMNH exhibits Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Sacagawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), tiny besties Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Octavius (Steve Coogan) and even rascally Capuchin Dexter (Crystal the Monkey) come along for the ride to lend their support. In London, Pharaoh Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) reveals what needs to be done to restore the tablet’s power and prevent the prophesied “end” from happening, but London exhibit Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) believes the tablet to be the objective of his quest and takes it for himself. As the team of exhibits weaken by the minute, they race with Larry around London to retrieve the tablet.
One of the most palpable things about Secret of the Tomb is how tired and thinly stretched the characters and plot feel. Stiller appears physically tired the entire time, as do the exhibits (though they have the tablet’s corrosion to justify their behaviour). The plot itself is as lifeless as an actual museum exhibit; there is no suspense, no climax and no grand finale. Secret of the Tomb closes the franchise with a tired wooden squeak instead of the expected bang.
To make matters worse, the plot is so clumsy that it consistently falls flat on its face (if it had one). “The end will come”, warns a frantic native when Ahkmenrah’s tablet is first retrieved in the opening Indiana Jones-esque excavation in 1938, but there is no threat of an “end” throughout the entire movie. Yes, the museum exhibits might never come to life again if the mission is not accomplished in time, but this is hardly the kind of thing a 1930s Egyptian native would be prophesying and freaking out about.
Dr. McPhee allows Larry to embark on his London escapade to save the AMNH, but what Larry decides to do at the end would, in McPhee’s eyes, be quite the exact opposite of what Larry had promised to accomplish. Yet McPhee does not seem to notice or, at least, care about this. “Three years later”, he appears completely fine for some unexplained reason.
Taking into consideration the enthusiasm of the first two Night at the Museum movies, and how this finale is meant to conclude the trilogy, Secret of the Tomb‘s biggest let-down is in the scale of the movie. In that, it is the smallest of the three. This is an almost unprecedented occurrence in action-heavy Hollywood and its current love affair for franchises that get bigger every step of the way.
Larry and his wax gang have their adventures in the British capital and literally have hundreds of museums and monuments at their doorstep to bring to life. Yet, most of that is not touched. Secret of the Tomb does almost nothing with the fact that it is set in magical London, and this makes it feel like there is a complete lack of passion in the movie.
Yet, the movie does get one thing right. Involuntarily doubling as a send-off for the comedic greatness that was Robin Williams, Secret of the Tomb more than delivers in celebrating Williams’ final physical onscreen moments.
Teddy’s final scenes are the most emotional, not just because Williams passed away three months ago, but also because the filmmakers allowed these scenes to take their time and capture every last moment of the actor. Teddy’s goodbye comes after all the other exhibits’ farewells to Larry (the final segment of the movie confronts letting go of the artefacts that entertained us for three movies). However, and quite appropriately so, it is evident that it is not Teddy Roosevelt who is celebrated in his final scenes, but Robin Williams himself. The final shot of Williams truly honours the actor.
The cherry on top is the final salute to Williams, which appears in the credits. Director Shawn Levy chose four simple words that are a worthy tribute to Williams while also remaining relevant to the movie.
Indeed, Night at the Museum‘s time is up, and not in the most inspiring fashion. But…
“For Robin Williams – the magic never ends”
And it never will.
Rating: 2.0/5 (TALK-o-meter: “That’s a thumbs down, Gladiator-style.”)