Michael J. Tresca reviewed:
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb [Blu-ray]
Who hasn't thought about museums coming to life? It was only in the past decade, when the special effects could keep up with our imaginations, that the concept was brought to the screen in glorious (and often cheesy) CGI. And who better to shepherd a franchise than Ben Stiller as Larry Daley, channeling his bitter snark into a family-friendly loser who is just trying to raise his kid right.
If you watch the first movie again...well, don't, because then you'll start to notice things -- the most egregious being the relentless characterization of Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) as spouting gibberish. But never you mind, because "Secret of the Tomb" is now refined family fare. The third part of the trilogy has filed off the sharp edges so that there's less monkey slapping and more hugging and kissing.
To wit, the tablet of Ahkmenrah, responsible for animating all of the exhibits in the Museum of Natural History, is beginning to corrode. During a special exhibition in which the exhibits are "brought to life" (unbeknownst to the wealthy guests in attendance, who think they are merely special effects) the animating magic of the tablet goes haywire and the animated creatures go nuts, ruining the museum and leading to Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) getting canned. The whole party -- literally, the museum's exhibits seem to party every night -- comes to an abrupt end.
But fear not! One flashback and some exposition later, we learn that former villain from the first film Cecil Fredericks (Dick Van Dyke, along with Bill Cobbs and recently passed Mickey Rooney ) is the link to the tablet's past. Fredericks directs Larry to the British Museum, where Ahkmenrah's parents (Ben Kingsley and Anjali Jay) hold the secret to restoring the tablet to its former glory. This is of course an opportunity to animate and explore a whole new museum filled with its own quirks and wonders.
As with all of the "Night at the Museum" movies, there are always jokes that just go on too long. Rebel Wilson as Tilly, the British security guard equivalent of Larry, spends far too much screen time desperately trying to be funny with nothing to do. There's an awkward thread about fathers and sons -- Larry's son Nicky wants to be a DJ instead of go to college -- that's supposed to parallel later events in the film but doesn't quite succeed. And Stiller's brand of humor isn't for everybody.
But there's some brilliant moments too, filled with action, intrigue, and a lot of coming-of-age hokum. The Neanderthal Laa that was modeled to look like Larry is an inspired joke and Sir Lancelot's (Dan Stevens) epic quest is heart wrenching when his hubris finally comes to grips with reality. Indeed, "Secret of the Tomb" embraces death, even if it's only because some gold prop started to corrode.
In what can only be described as a bittersweet finale, Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt says goodbye to...well, to everything. Adults wept in the theater while kids wondered what the heck was going on. And suddenly what was a trifle of a kids film filled with stories about the wonders of history has become a sharp lesson about letting go of the past.
Does this make the film better? Will people watching it years later still feel the same? Probably not. But for now, in the present, everything is thrown in sharp relief by the last line ever spoken by Robin Williams as a wax figure in the form of Teddy Roosevelt:
"Smile, my boy. It's sunrise."