There’s a certain irony to the plot of this third and supposedly final instalment of Ben Stiller’s goofy Night at the Museum franchise, which revolves around security guard Larry’s attempts to restore a decaying tablet that’s rapidly losing its magic. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that this idea may also refer to the series itself. Once a thriving dose of manic energy and cheerful silliness, this family-friendly trilogy has long since lost its sheen and now feels stubbornly inert.
Even an abrupt relocation to London isn’t enough to prop-up the sagging predictability of Secret of the Tomb, which sees Stiller and his usual band of Natural History Museum cohorts roam the halls of the British Museum trading the same tried quips and encountering a series of easily-surmountable obstacles that spark some lively action beats – exactly the same as the previous two films.
But while this lack of invention could be tolerated in the first film and Battle of the Smithsonian because these films at least had a sense of fun, now the magic has faded the story and character deficiencies have become glaringly obvious.
It’s hard to blame the performers for this as all the returning faces – Williams, Coogan, Wilson and Gervais among them – continue to attack their roles with gusto. But with all of their respective character arcs having been wrapped up in the previous instalments, the main cast can only provide mild comic relief, which makes for a very lopsided film – one heavy on the mayhem but incredibly light on emotional depth.
The new additions are similarly laboured with one-note roles, Dan Stevens’ charismatic turn as a vainglorious Lancelot being wasted on a character that doesn’t progress in any meaningful way, and Rebel Wilson merely delivers her usual ‘outrageous Aussie’ shtick as a London security guard.
Secret of the Tomb’s only laudable quality is the excellent production design, director Shawn Levy staging several clever and spectacular set pieces, such as an exciting opening the charmingly apes The Last Crusade and a spooky encounter with the Elgin Marbles. Yet, with such lacklustre character interplay in-between the action, it’s hard to stay invested in the story for its entire duration.
The jokes, too, largely fall flat as Levy hatches on a couple of new gags, mostly drawn from the addition of Stiller’s Neanderthal doppelganger La, and then proceeds to regurgitate them over and over until they become just as tired and frustrating as the rest of the film.
That said, Secret of the Tomb somehow manages to deliver an emotionally stirring finale. Though Larry’s attempts to reconnect with his rebellious son never quite ring true, the recent deaths of Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney lend an inadvertent poignancy to the exhibits final goodbyes and there’s unlikely to be a dry eye in the house when the series does finally draw to a close.
It’s a surprisingly strong ending to a less-than-inspired send-off that almost makes the entire experience worthwhile. It’s just a shame that the rest of the film can’t muster the same impact.
Running time: 98 mins; Genre: Family Comedy; Released: 19 December 2014;
Director: Shawn Levy; Screenwriters: David Guion, Michael Handelman;
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens
Click here to watch the trailer for Night and the Museum: Secret of the Tomb