Rated PG for mild action, rude humor and brief language
Written by David Guion, Michael Handelman and more
Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Dan Stevens, Rebel Wilson and more
That’s one of the reason that mediocre and even terrible sequels continue to make money. We’re so happy to see certain characters again that we overlook the fact that the reunion isn’t nearly as great as the first meeting was, the familiar affection enough to smooth over a lot of the gaps.
The ending of “Night at the Museum 3,” though, I’m not willing to forgive. In an attempt to recreate some of the heartbreaking poignancy of “Toy Story 3,” Levy instead turns what would have been a flawed but pleasant nostalgia trip into a pointless downer that will likely anger longtime fans of the series. After years of watching these characters live their lives, this is far from the last memory I wanted to have of them.
The story involves with the potential destruction of the Tablet of Akmenrah, the magical plot device that allows the museum figures to come to life every night. In order to figure out how to fix it, Ben Stiller heads to the British Museum in London to get some answers. Naturally, everyone from Robin Williams’ Teddy Roosevelt to Owen Wilson’s tiny cowboy manage to show up as well, causing hijinks to ensue.
At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen in “The Night at the Museum” movies. None of them will ever be confused with the greatest movies ever made, but the first managed to make more than $250 million domestically by capturing some of that childlike wonder a really great museum exhibit is supposed to inspire. It’s not unusual for kids to imagine the figures coming to life at night, and even if you didn’t, it’s a lovely thought.
The sequel focused more on the hijinks than the magic, despite the expanded playground, and was overall bland but harmless. The third starts out in a similar vein, though the script is considerably more focused and genuinely sweet at moments. There are still some gross-out jokes and a completely unnecessary look-alike caveman, but the action sequences were entertaining and there’s a delightful bit involving a stage production of “Camelot” that I won’t spoil. I wasn’t transported, but as a fan of the characters I was actually having fun.
But the ending makes a bid for drama that nullifies nearly all of the plot and emotional development that came before it. Stiller does everything he can, stepping up here acting-wise in a way he doesn’t get a chance to during the rest of the movie, but the audience is too busy recovering from the plot and tone whiplash to really appreciate any of it. Dan Stevens and Rebel Wilson, two new characters from the British Museum who both served as a breath of fresh air for the movie, were largely abandoned during this entire ending sequence.
Robin Williams, in his last on-screen appearance, did make me cry. But honestly, he could have done that just by standing there, so I don’t give the movie any credit for that.
In the end, I felt far more cheated than touched. The characters, as well as those of us who have stuck with the series this far, deserved so much better than this.