“They’ll burn up like tiny scarabs in Sinai”
It appears director Shawn Levy and new screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman have thrown the jokey nature of Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant‘s Battle of the Smithsonian away to bring the Night at the Museum series back to what first made it a success. Secret of the Tomb reminded me a lot of the original installment with a thinly veiled metaphor once again providing the dramatic arc for Larry Daley’s (Ben Stiller) adventure, this time showing a need to say goodbye to his magical friends simultaneously with his soon-to-be high school graduate son Nick (the newly cast Skyler Gisondo). And even though it’s set in a distant locale like its predecessor—the British Museum of Natural History—all our favorite characters come along for the ride and don’t stay stuck in a crate for the duration.
The theme is all about family and dads protecting sons beyond the point of necessity. Not only does Larry hope taking his son to England will supply time to talk about his college plans of which the boy would rather ignore and spend a year in Ibiza DJing, but the whole journey concerns Akmenrah’s (Rami Malek) tablet losing its power and everyone discovering his father Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley) holds the key to saving it. The core group of Larry, Akmenrah, Teddy (Robin Williams), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Attila (Patrick Gallagher), Jed (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), and Dexter (Crystal the Monkey) head across the pond to discover its secret, set things right, and bring the magic back to New York City. With a whole museum awakening for the first time, however, they’ve no idea what London has in store.
The leeway taken in the second film as far as the tablet’s breadth and whether or not objects must be contained inside the place it was housed when the sun set to come to life remains with giant lion statues animating in a crowd of people, but it isn’t as blatant or over-reaching as Smithsonian. Forcing us to believe everything occurs in real time so a seven and a half hour flight can fit in before sunrise, however, is a bit more of a stretch. Thankfully the filmmakers allow the story at hand to captivate beyond easy jokes and physical comedy, distracting us so these glaring details can’t ruin the fun we might otherwise have along the way. It’s an intriguing chapter getting more to the heart of what this tablet is and how it’s been charged.
One ancient object cannot simply sustain power infinitely so it was just a matter of time before corrosion would occur physically to it and those it brought to life. Having it happen during a huge dinner to showcase the Natural History Museum’s newest addition to beneficiaries that was organized by over-the-top wet blanket Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) is merely icing on top. In a nutshell, the tablet’s waning wizardry transports the exhibits to the mentality they possessed when first awoken—one of surprise, self-defense, and mischief. Watching Attila massacre an ice dolphin and Dexter threaten to stab someone with a shish kebab skewer spells the end of McPhee’s tenure and most certainly Larry’s night program full of “special effects”. Knowing he has one chance to set things right, they depart for Merenkahre with melancholic optimism.
Joined by the newest member of NYC’s Neanderthals, Laa (who looks exactly like Larry and believes him to be his father), only Tilly (Rebel Wilson) the British night guard stands in their way. Easily duped and prone to slumber on the job, it isn’t long before everyone is inside and chased by a Triceratops a lot more aggressive than Rexie back home. With Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) coming to their rescue and serving as their guide, they traverse the latest CGI spectacles until arriving in the Egypt wing for answers. A double-cross later and the race is on before the magic is extinguished forever and Larry most likely arrested on foreign soil. All the while father and son relationships pop up every ten minutes or so, jamming that message into our brains until cooler heads ultimately triumph.
It’s a family-friendly comedy extravaganza with much of the series’ inherent charm intact along with historical references turned on their heads for laughs (see Pompeii proving the perfect set-up for a urine-filled punch line). Goofiness is king as Laa desperately tries to help while also eating Styrofoam packing peanuts; Dexter roams the air vents with a cellphone tied to his butt in order to find a lost Jed and Octavius; and Lancelot giggles at Larry for reminding him of King Arthur’s favorite “fool”. Overwrought sentimentality permeates most scenes with the prevailing need to sever emotional ties as the idea of finding one’s “true self” returns in a big way for more than one main player. It’s nice to finally see Nick partake in the action too rather than introduce new characters we’ll never have time to care about.
An appropriate goodbye for Robin Williams courtesy of the finale’s hard choices (as well as for Mickey Rooney reprising his crotchety old Gus), it’s nice that the series was able to go full circle towards a worthwhile end. There’s a lot in common with the first whether the types of creatures met inside the museum or the main villain’s reveal, but I honestly don’t mind such mirroring in a kid’s film so as not to confuse with inconsistency. The computer graphics remain the biggest selling point with a sequence in the MC Escher room causing me to wish I could jump inside the film and play myself, but even it’s overshadowed by Larry’s heart and the sacrifices made to ensure new generations possess a venue to teach history in an enjoyably engaging way.
 (from left) Atilla the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) react to an unexpected turn of events. Photo credit: Joe Lederer- TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
 Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and Tilly (Rebel Wilson) team up to help save the magic. Photo credit: Joe Lederer- TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
 NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 3 Lancelot (Dan Stevens, left) and Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) plan the next move to save the magic. Photo credit: Kerry Brown TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.