Night at the Museum

⭐⭐⭐ averaged across 3 films.

tl;dr: Huge amounts of fun with so many cameos you lose track, even if the actual history is a little bizarre at times.

Night at the Museum

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I haven't seen Night at the Museum for many years, but I remembered it fondly. Overall, I think it holds up to those memories. The overall plot is, of course, ridiculous, but it's a kids movie involving magical Egyptian artefacts, so it's fairly easy to look past and just get lost in the fun. The cast, on the other hand, is a whole different kind of ridiculous. Every single role seems to involve someone famous, so much so that the side characters alone would comfortably pack out a movie theatre, with the likes of Paul Rudd, Ricky Gervais, and Rami Malek making minor appearances whilst the main cast includes Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, and Dick van Dyke!

There are some elements of the humour that fall a bit flat, but overall it did elicit plenty of chuckles. I think you could also argue that some elements of the film feel a little unnecessary, such as the romance with the tour guide/researcher, but they're small niggles. A larger issue could definitely be taken with the lack of nuance in the portrayal of many historical figures, alongside the often ignorant stereotyping on display. I'd find it fair to counter with an argument of "these aren't the actual historical figures, but sculptures of them that have taken on their character via the information in the museum", which would lead to them effectively being popular stereotypes of themselves. In particular, I wish that the Neanderthals weren't simply men trying to be apes (a depiction that is more racist than scientific) but on the whole I think, again, you can look past these issues with a reminder that it's a kids movie.

That said, as a kids movie I'm not entirely sure what the point is, but the concept is entertaining and any film that gives us a T-Rex skeleton wagging its tail can skip the obvious morality play in my book 😁 The main "human" characters are all interesting enough to keep you caring, the action sequences are well done, and it constantly keeps you guessing as to who might show up next, all of which make for an enjoyable ride with some clever ideas and surprisingly solid execution.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I may have actually seen the second Night at the Museum in the cinema when it came out. At any rate, I can remember two core things: that the movie was surprisingly funny and that Amy Adams was utterly fantastic. A decade later, I stand by both of those appraisals!

The first film proved that the core concept worked, introduced a fun cast of characters, and had a surprisingly solid sense of humour backed up by a ridiculous cast of A-list stars. In many ways, it feels like Battle of the Smithsonian was made to prove that they could one-up each of those elements. The story is a bit of a retread, though this time with a comic-book-style villain – played brilliantly by Hank Azaria – and an arguably more generic plot, but the jokes are excellent and the cast is astonishing. All the original main characters return, even if just for a moment or two (like Rami Malek), but the new characters of the Smithsonian add a huge amount. Bill Hader is a fun General Custer, Jon Bernthal (The Punisher) is the perfect Al Capone, and there are great cameo appearances by Jay Baruchel, Mindy Kaling, and Craig Robinson. I'm less sure about the cupid Jonas Brothers, but whatever, the rest are great.

On top of which, it really bears repeating how fantastic Amy Adams is as Amelia Earhart. Not only is she a much better romantic interest than the tour guide from movie one, but she's also just a generally kickass character who was clearly a huge amount of fun to play.

Does the movie occasionally go a bit over the top? Yes, definitely, but somehow it pulls it together. Steve Coogan charging through grass or riding a squirrel into battle works; the giant Abraham Lincoln statue having a hatred for pigeons; the wonderful animations of the balloon-dog sculpture; the giant octopus having fun in the central pond; the number of ways that Ben Stiller manages to use a flashlight as a weapon. It's ridiculous but it works.

Does the film throw out quite a bit of the central logic? Sure, but it wasn't particularly watertight to begin with. The various museums don't seem to animate until the tablet is under their roof, even though the storage facility is connected to all of them and once animated they seem to be fine; the Wright Brothers aeroplane is bizarrely manoeuvrable; and I can't fathom the logic of how they transported everyone back to New York, that same evening, in a single-prop plane, or how Amelia is then meant to get back to the Smithsonian without the tablet keeping her alive?

On the other hand, the effects work is excellent. Okay, some of the CG characters are a bit dated now, but the black and white TV effect was brilliant. It looks great on Capone and gang, but the transition of Stiller and Adams as they enter the photograph of the kissing couple in New York is excellent. The cast and crew have also had a huge amount of fun with the worldbuilding and there are so many silly little details or fun easter eggs tucked away in the background, it's just great.

What you're left with, then, is a joyous and highly entertaining bucket of laughs, fun characters, and ridiculous action, all tied together by some excellent acting performances. I would happily sit through it many more times again in the future.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Night at the Museum goes to London. I'd assumed the plot would have been "New York loans series of artefacts to London" and then we'd get some interesting revelations when all the mummies in the British Museum's (in)famous Egyptian section came back to life. Instead, they chose to have the magic tablet begin to fail (which admittedly gave us a brilliant rampage scene at the fundraising gala 😂) and revealed that its creator, Ahkmenrah's father, was actually on display there. Actually, as a pivot it was quite fun and I thought the story held together just about well enough. The realisation that his family are in London was a solid justification for "ending" the plot, as Ahkmenrah chooses to stay there with the tablet once again, turning the main characters back into museum displays. Of course, there are still plenty of stories that could be told about London, but that would be open to a soft reboot with Rebel Wilson or another actor taking Stiller's lead. It was nice to get some more from Stiller's son as well, plus the brief exposition about what became of the original Night Guards after the first film. Overall, it's a neat cap to the trilogy that ties up any remaining loose ends.

But of course, the NatM movies aren't really about plot; they're about having a lot of creative fun with well known, beloved historical characters and locations, tied together by a great cast. In that sense, the third instalment is definitely the weakest, focusing more on plot and existing characters, but where it tried to be original it still sparkled with fun and humour. Lancelot was a great character, played brilliantly by Dan Stevens (Eurovision), even if the nose-melting gag went on a bit long. The miniature eruption of Vesuvius was fun, but the Asian sculptures and subsequent fight with the snake demon were just great set pieces, and the MC Escher painting was brilliant. Plus, the surprise Hugh Jackman cameo was very funny.

Speaking of the fight sequences, one element that stood out was how well choreographed the action was. It's a weird thing to say, but having Stiller and friends jumping through, over, and round obviously CG characters actually felt really fluid and realistic, with a few moments where I genuinely don't understand how they got the shot. Not something I thought I'd say, but there you go.

Where it suffers were in the small details. Ben Kingsley was underwhelming and a bit stilted, I still don't like the monkey character, and at this point you just have to accept that planes in this universe are all supersonic and can cross the Atlantic in under an hour. It also highlighted that the ending of the previous film didn't really work, relying on almost everyone in the world to just buy into a blatant lie that the NY Museum somehow had an infinite effects budget and access to animatronics that would put Hollywood out of business. And then there's the new caveman character. I could have sworn that this was a drawn-out Tom Cruise cameo for the entire movie and gave it a pass for getting someone of that calibre to take part, but apparently my eyes were deceived and it was just Ben Stiller again (I'm not the only one). Unfortunately, in that case: why?! The gag wore thin fast and the character mainly seemed to exist to allow other parts to simply talk exposition at him, which is just boring to watch.

Gripes aside, I still enjoyed the third NatM. The plot did just enough to keep you interested, the humour still have some solid moments, and the core cast remains as brilliant as ever. I don't need any more (particularly with Rebel Wilson, who was a solid meh in this role for me) but I'm happy to have gotten a final dose of museum magic before it wrapped up.

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