The Night at the Museum franchise has never been anything spectacular, but I’ve never felt it was horrible or even actually all that bad. The first film took a dopey, grade-school chapter book premise and made something halfway decent for kids, effectively translating Ben Stiller’s then still-relevant comedic stylings into something more kid-friendly while encouraging a love of learning by making museum exhibits come alive. And while that’s definitely a laudable goal, the films were, and continue to be, primarily for the kids rather than the adults that have obligatorily brought them to the theater or bought the DVD. The third installment in pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be: a slapdash combination of recycled jokes and a recycled premise, but with enough new material to keep kids happy and really no one else.
If you’re somehow unfamiliar, Night at the Museum is basically an even more kiddified version of Jumanji, where a magic McGuffin brings inanimate museum exhibits to life and wacky hijinks ensue. The hook this time around is that the McGuffin, an ancient Egyptian tablet, is beginning to lose its power, and so nightwatchman Larry (Ben Stiller) must venture with his exhibit friends to find out how to keep the power from running out so that the exhibits can continue living. To do this, they go to the British Museum, which brings their exhibits to life as well. This is an odd mix of the rehashed plot of the second film, that relied almost purely on cameos and new exhibits to see brought to life, and of a new story to act as the bookend to the trilogy. As far as redundant children’s series go, you can do worse.
Also paradoxically, the ones who will likely find this film the most entertaining probably were only just born when the first film came out almost nine years ago, if even born yet at all. The jokes are skewed young, relying on urination, goo effects, and repetitive dialogue to drive the biggest comedic set-pieces, which can be admittedly grating if you aren’t suffering through for a child’s benefit. Ben Stiller’s comedy truly hasn’t aged well, with his rambling conversational sketches quickly losing their edge if they were even sharp to begin with. Perhaps it’s the neutered kids’ material, but none of his delivery really ends up sticking the landing.
And yet, I can’t really bring myself to call this a bad film. It’s nothing I’d watch again, but I’m most assuredly outside the target audience. It’s rare to see a kids’ blockbuster with such a passion for education and learning, and if that inspires kids to pursue their own self-betterment through knowledge, then I can’t really place too much fault in the filmmakers’ intentions. The whole trilogy has retained a pretty standard level of mediocrity, and the final installment doesn’t stray too far from that safe territory. If you have a kid, this probably isn’t a bad choice for them. I can’t really say there’s much of anything here for you as an adult, but you will likely be able to appreciate the lessons being instilled in the next generation.
So, you think Ben Stiller’s lost his touch? Or are you excited to see Zoolander 2 next year? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.