Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Christian Movie Review
In Ben Stiller’s third outing as a museum night guard in a museum where things come alive at night, the plot revolves, once again, around the magic tablet that brings everything to life, and it dives into its not-terribly-original back-story in ancient Egypt — with a little London flavor thrown in for good measure.
At the time of this writing the film has sunk down to only a 49% favorable rating on RottenTomatoes.com. And I agree with the critics on this one. The film, despite its hugely talented cast, suffers from a mediocre, painfully predictable Saturday morning cartoon plot; though, despite this foundational flaw, the film does have a few bright moments of genuine hilarity. Hugh Jackman’s cameo and Ricky Gervais in general were notable highlights.
Something that surprised me: one of the characters, in a subtle-but-not-really kind of way, is portrayed as being gay — at least it is strongly implied, as the script has him display obvious homoerotic tendencies, then builds a recurring joke around it.
The Robin Williams factor added a strange, painful gravity to the film. That was really tough to watch, to be honest. This film was the second-to-last movie that he made before he committed suicide in August of this year. The script didn’t give him a lot of great opportunities to showcase his comedic genius, unfortunately, but [spoiler alert!] the closing scene where his character Teddy Roosevelt bids a final farewell to Larry Daley was downright eerie. As Larry says goodbye to Teddy, who is slowly turning back to wax, Teddy announces with bittersweet sadness, “the sunrise has come,” and Larry has tears in his eyes as he hears Teddy’s heartfelt but thick-skinned goodbye.
We have tears in our eyes too, Robin.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: A male character, Octavius the Roman soldier, tries to hold the hand of another male character, Jed the cowboy. Later, Octavius eyes the handsome character Sir Lancelot and compliments his good looks with gushing adoration and homoerotic wordplay that signals an obvious attraction. Octavius does this a second time near the end of the movie with an even stronger statement about Lancelot’s attractiveness (just in case it wasn’t obvious enough that the filmmakers were trying to portray Octavius as gay).
Violence/Gore: This PG film has some battle scenes involving giant dinosaur skeletons, and there is quite a lot of slap-stick violence for laughs, but nothing really beyond the PG realm.
Language: “Hell” and “damn it” — one instance of each.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Frightening/Intense Content: A “serpent demon” statue in the Asian exhibit of the London museum comes to life and, with many fanged serpent heads like Hydra, attacks with great viciousness. It might frighten smaller children under five.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
This film is cursed not with an ancient Egyptian curse (which lies at the center of the story), but with something much more formidable: the Death-by-Screenwriter-Committee Curse. The writing credits include five different people. I suspect this might’ve contributed to the final result: a tedious (at times), predictable, low tension grade school plot. The central problem/conflict of the story was just too weak.
Of course, that’s from a cynical adult’s point of view. Kids under eight will likely not be troubled at all by the impressively unoriginal plot. It has plenty of new museum creatures that come alive, and it cracks an abundance of jokes that will amuse children.
To be fair, it does have its moments. Hugh Jackman’s cameo where he plays himself is especially hilarious and fun. Ben Stiller’s cave man alter-ego Laaa got some strong laughs from the audience, and I thought Ricky Gervais was especially good. Rebel Wilson has a prevalent role, and she provided some refreshing comic relief in her scenes.
I also loved Attila the Hun’s pronunciation of Regis Philbin: “Rega Philbo.” I’m still chuckling to myself at that one for some reason. I might just be really tired, I’m not sure.
Also, the scene where the planetarium in the museum comes alive — complete with stunning animation depicting the constellations — was a delight to watch.
It always feels a little silly to analyze movies like this with any level of seriousness, but this film — despite its comedic silliness — does slip in some serious view points about serious topics that could shape impressionable young minds who see it. The film has a scene in which Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) discusses the idea of absolute truth with the Pharaoh (Ben Kingsley). In this conversation the Pharaoh insists that the Egyptian gods are the only true gods (a claim of absolute truth, albeit a pagan claim). Larry replies that “we like to be more open-minded here,” and then he describes the different gods that Attila the Hun and Sacajawea worship and makes it clear that it’s not cool to say that any one way is the absolute truth. He’s trying to make the point that being “open-minded” means not making claims of absolute truth.
This mode of thinking comes from the fount of moral relativism that characterizes our secular age in the West. In our age of relativism, it’s not cool to be certain about anything, especially when it comes to the big questions like God and religion. This movie reflects that attitude.
Yeah, I know, it’s just a family/kid’s movie, but the movie throws some surprisingly complex, hot-button, divisive issues at families and kids: i.e. a character exploring gay feelings and making homoerotic jokes, the subtle condemnation of believing in absolute truth, and the mispronunciation of Regis Philbin’s name — Rega Philbo! (Just kidding about the last one…sort of.)
Ben Stiller — and all the other actors in this film — are all very likable personalities. They make you want to like this movie. And there are certainly parts I did like in it (especially loved all the gorgeous aerial photography of London!).
The first film charmed all of us because it had a creative idea. But with these second and third movies, instead of exploring new territory and adding new ideas to old ones, they simply replayed the novelty of the first idea — cool stuff coming to life at night — but with different scenery behind it.
What if, instead of simply bringing more museum pieces to life at night, the magic tablet changed and grew in its power and began bringing the real historical characters back to life — almost like a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or a Mr. Peabody & Sherman scenario where real historical figures are characters in the film?
Heck, maybe you go the full nine yards and the tablet has the power to send people (and the museum figures who come alive) back in time. Sure, time travel movies aren’t original, but combining time travel with the museum-comes-alive idea would’ve been a unique twist. It could’ve opened up creative plot possibilities and interactions between the museum pieces and the real historical figures.
And that’s just an idea scratched out in 45 seconds off the top of some random writer’s head at two in the morning.
Couldn’t professional screenwriters who have weeks, even months, to come up with ideas maybe have thought of something a little better for this movie?
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