I’m not going to lie, the original Night at the Museum is one of my favorite films to watch. Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but there’s just something that’s so much fun about it that adults can easily love it as well. Maybe it’s the energy, the light humor, the great cast, and its ability to bring historical figures to life without boring anyone, highlighting their importance, which is something kids probably don’t get in their history classes. Unfortunately, this franchise has waned and lost its ability to entertain as it once did, making Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb hard to sit through.
Larry the night guard (Ben Stiller) is back. And having been at his job for several years protecting and you know, guarding, the likes of Teddy Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams), the cowboy Jed (Owen Wilson) and Roman general Octavius (Steve Coogan), Egyptian pharaoh Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), and more. The tablet that awakens them every night is corroding and losing its power, thus endangering the lives of the historical figures in the museum.
After a night show fiasco (yes, the residents of the museum now entertain high-profile attendees), Larry convinces Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) to allow him to go to London so that he can restore the tablet’s powers. Larry and his companions must find Ahkmenrah’s father (Ben Kingsley) to unlock the secrets of the tablet before time runs out and the figures turn to wax for good, all while also dealing with a delusional Lancelot (Dan Stevens), and bored night guard (Rebel Wilson) who becomes infatuated with Laa, a caveman replica of Larry.
While the film boasts some barely there entertaining moments, it moves at a sluggish pace. There is contrived drama between Larry and his high school graduate son (Skyler Gisondo) because he doesn’t want to go to college, and it feels like they add this in there just to give the film a semi-important side plot that is unfitting and has nothing to do with the film itself.
This installment plays heavily on what has worked in the past (the slapping capuchin monkey, the antics of Jedediah and Octavius, etc.), but the repetition here is tedious, forced, and aims to please with laughs, but it just doesn’t sit right. There’s nothing new unfortunately. What’s most bothersome about the film is that outside of the main plot, which is threadbare at best, is that there is no one really standing in their way (unless you can count time as being a bad guy). No antagonist, save for Lancelot in the last quarter of the film and by that point, it feels too tacked on to be natural.
Many of the beloved characters are relegated to the background and aren’t given as much to do. Robin Williams’ Roosevelt, who is usually the one to keep everyone and everything in check, starts to turn to wax and is only really there to inform Larry of what is happening to them. This is a disservice to his character and to the late actor himself. His final moments, however, are bittersweet and more sad than they would have been had he not passed away earlier this year.
Ben Kingsley’s role is laughably ironic. He’s playing an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh here and he was last seen as a Hebrew slave in Exodus: Gods and Kings. His role is not large enough to be relevant and could have really been removed altogether. Dick Van Dyke, the late Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs all make appearances, but their presence unfortunately feels forced, which is sad considering this is also Mickey Rooney’s last film appearance. Even funnywoman Rebel Wilson can’t really make many people laugh in her awkward scenes with Laa the caveman.
Ultimately, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb disappoints on many levels. The humor that makes the original and even most of the sequel fun is lost, making many scenes fall flat. There’s too much repetition from the past films that just doesn’t seem to work here and it only serves to reinforce the glaring fact that the franchise has lost its mojo and can’t think of anything else to do. There is no real antagonist and this makes the film feel like it’s going nowhere, at least until the very end. The final scenes with Robin Williams feel bitter sweet, but perhaps you’re better off watching one of his better films.