First time's a charm... third time not so much.
In case you've never seen a Night at the Museum movie, the premise is simple - each night the exhibits at New York's Museum of Natural History come alive.The first film in the series was quite charming, full of inventive comedy and exciting set pieces. It also had an excellent cast that was headed by Ben Stiller but included Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, Owen Wilson, Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney. The film was wildly successful, taking $574 million at the worldwide box office, and anything that gets kids interested in history and visiting museums has to be applauded. The inevitable sequel was called Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and, as the name suggests, moved the action from New York to Washington. This time around the premise was essentially the same but included more science and technology history into the plot. It did well, although not as well as the first, but there was still some fun to be had from the characters and even some new ones added such as Amy Adam's Amelia Earhart.Despite stretching an already thin premise, the second Night at the Museum film did make enough money to spawn a third film in what the filmmakers are now referring to as a trilogy. Unfortunately this time around the premise feels very tired and the jokes and set pieces just too obvious. In a plot device that explains why the exhibits come to life, the action moves to the British Museum and adds Ben Kingsley and Rebel Wilson to the cast. It would have made more sense to use London's Natural History Museum, especially with the Science Museum next door, but the script always goes for the obvious rather than anything original. The British Museum actually has very few of the exhibits seen in the film and anyone familiar with it will soon realise it bears little semblance to reality. There's even a disclaimer to that fact at the end and it's a shame that the film jettisons some of the historical facts for outright fantasy.
This final film feels tired and obvious, with even the cast beginning to look bored.
In Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb we discover that it's the tablet of Ahkmenrah that is causing the exhibits to come to life but this power is in danger of being lost. In an attempt the find a way to save the exhibits, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) travels to the British Museum in London to find Ahkmenrah's parents and hopefully find a way to stop the tablet losing its magic. Sadly the plot somewhat mirrors reality, as the franchise itself has rather lost its magic and what once felt vibrant and original now feels tired and uninspired. There's also a sense that the franchise has lost one of its most endearing aspects, the idea of getting children interested in history.
Unfortunately, there's little of historical interest in the film and instead the filmmakers add fictional characters like Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) to the cast with mixed results. They also add the annoying Rebel Wilson, playing a security guard at the British Museum, to the mix causing us to wonder why she keeps getting work. Needless to say no British cliche is left untouched and when the gang arrive in London to the strains of London Calling by The Clash, you know originality is not high up the list of priorities. It's unfortunate for many reasons but mostly because Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb was the last completed film for both Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney - the film is dedicated to them at the end.
There are moments of inspiration, with a scene set inside a drawing by M. C. Escher being quite fun and there's an amusing cameo from Hugh Jackman as himself. There's also a running gag about a Neanderthal exhibit that has been deliberately made to look like Larry, allowing Ben Stiller to have fun as two different characters. Although Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is intended to be a send-off for the franchise, you get the feeling this is less out of artistic intent and more due to falling box office. Ultimately it feels like one 'night' too many, with a tired plot and a bored cast who are largely going through the motions.
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