Saturday, 27 December 2014

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb (2014) - Movie Review

It’s a very bittersweet experience seeing a film like this; Robin Williams is one of my favourite comedians of all time with a wide pedigree of talent (despite a couple of film clunkers) whether it’s his excellent stand-up shows, his classic film roles like the Genie in Aladdin and Peter Pan in Hook, or his surprising talent at darker roles like One Hour Photo and his guest spot on Law & Order: SVU. It is a tragedy when anyone dies, but knowing who he was and how it happened… I’m getting choked up as I write this just thinking about it. But his works still remain to warm the hearts and tickle the funnybones of audiences for a long while yet; I firmly believe that men live on so long as they are remembered, and I doubt that Williams will be forgotten anytime soon. With that, let’s take a look at his final live-action film role that was also dedicated to his memory.

The plot: Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) discovers that the ancient Egyptian tablet that brings the museum exhibits to life every night is starting to fade. With the aid of his friends in the museum, including Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), he makes his way to the British Museum of Natural History to find Ahkmenrah’s father (Ben Kingsley) and hopefully restore the tablet before the exhibits stop moving for good.

As with the previous two films, we have a cast full of capable comedic actors. Also as with the previous two films, they aren’t given that much material to work with. Stiller seems to be stuck with the same awkward comedy writers have been giving him for the last few years, which largely makes for rather dull thuds rather than jokes that land. For everyone else, while they have built some good chemistry with each other that makes for good rapport between characters and decent performances, they suffer from reading off the same script as Stiller. It is nice seeing Dick van Dyke again though, albeit in a small cameo.

The new cast members we get are mixed at best: Ben Kingsley has a very minor role and just does what he does considering; Dan Stevens as Lancelot seems to get the role with the most meat on it and does a great job at pulling off the Arthurian grandiosity that it calls for; and then we get to Rebel Wilson as the night guard of the British Museum. As much as I don’t want to slag off Rebel too much, as she isn’t a bad actor by any stretch… she is annoying to the point of unwatchable in this film. She gets the definite short end of the stick with the writing, as the script doesn’t seem to know what to do with her other than just make her abrasive. Well, well done on that front but that doesn’t make her funny.

Aside from the jokes, this is a pretty flimsy script in terms of story; it somehow manages to have even less story than the last film. The plot boils down to this: Tablet losing power, go to British museum, get way to save it from Kingsley that is amazingly simple (like, almost insulting easy), restore tablet, roll credits. Then again, the Night At The Museum films are less about plot and more about spectacle: It uses the plot as a thinly disguised excuse to string together creative ways of museum exhibits coming to life, which admittedly is done fine here. The definite highlight in that regard would have to be when Daley ends up inside an M.C. Escher painting, with a very interesting visual style to go along with it.

However, what character plot is used in this film only really applies to two characters: Daley and Sir Lancelot. Daley and his relationship with his son, and his realization that he needs to let his son discover his own path in the world, is the big subplot of the film and to call it hackneyed is an understatement; it’s one of those plot threads where literally everyone sees the right thing to do except for the man himself, which is annoying to see in any medium. To help drive the point home, we have Lancelot talking of the son’s potential and a weird running joke about a wax Neanderthal that was sculpted to look like Daley (and is also played by Ben Stiller) and who thinks that Daley is his father. While the former is fine given the subplot, the latter is confusing for one simple reason: Because of the make-up work, they managed to make Stiller not look recognizably like himself… when his character’s entire reason for being is to make a joke about how similar he looks to another character played by himself. This might be the biggest failed running joke of the year, and it’s kind of amazing how badly it is botched. The overall subplot, though, is something we have seen in countless other films and is mostly just boring at this rate.

The character arc involving Sir Lancelot, however, is where the film hits some major good points. *SPOILERS* His existential crisis about being a wax sculpture and that Lancelot himself doesn’t historically exist, which feels like it was cut from the same cloth as the original Toy Story, on its own makes for good writing moments and a new take on the overall idea, that I honestly thought would have been explored in the series prior to this film, but then we get a credo from Roosevelt about the nature of museum exhibits and how they inspire and teach people that thickens it into something that, in a stronger film, could have made for something amazing. It’s still good here, but it is hurt by its proximity to a monkey stopping a lava flow with his urine. Lancelot as a character, admittedly, is a bit abrasive once he starts talking (Him fighting the triceratops skeleton was cool to watch, though) but once he makes a heel turn, the character reaches the stronger points of his character arc, with a little help from some surprise cameos.

All in all, this is just okay. The humour is very hit-and-miss and the returning cast does well with the roles they have grown comfortable with over three films. The script has some clever moments, with a nice explanation for the MacGuffin tablet, but the truly inspired moments are few and far between. In terms of being Williams’ swan song, his final scene in this film is kind of beautiful and adds even more to the idea of inspiring others with your image; for an actor like him, it’s actually a pretty good note to end on.

1 comment:

  1. Night at the Museum is one of those films where it's not a huge movie, it's not a blockbuster, there's nothing wrong with it, it's just generally not talked about in the film fan world as I've seen it.