Oh, how we miss Robin Williams.
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” is both a reminder of how much the world lost when he died, and a fitting sendoff (though there are several more of his movies still in the pipeline awaiting release) for this manic, tormented comic genius.
Ben Stiller may be the star of the “Night at the Museum” pictures, but Williams’ Teddy Roosevelt is the funny heart and compassionate soul of the series, dispensing clever one-liners and offering calming wisdom to Stiller’s perpetually harried character, Larry Daley. That’s never be more so than in “Secret of the Tomb,” in which Teddy bids farewell to Larry with words — “I guess this is it” — invested with an unexpected depth of poignancy owing to the fact that they are more true than he and the filmmakers knew.
Fortunately for Williams, and us, “Secret of the Tomb” sends him out on a high note. It’s the exception to the Rule of Sequels: Sequels, particularly sequels of sequels, are usually little more than naked grabs for cash. That certainly was true of 2009’s “Battle of the Smithsonian,” a relentlessly paced exhibition of CGI trickery with very little heart (and in which Williams played a distinctly minor role). But “Tomb” may be the best “Museum” of all.
In “Tomb,” series director Shawn Levy gets the old gang from the first picture — including, briefly, Dick Van Dyke, the late Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs — back together for one last hurrah. “Tomb” packs them up (literally, for many of them, in crates) and sends them to the British Museum in London where Larry must try to fix the decaying ancient Egyptian magic tablet that brings exhibits and statues (like Teddy) to life. Plenty of CG wonderments are on view, including a dazzlingly conceived chase through the topsy-turvy dimensions of M.C. Escher’s famous “Relativity” lithograph. That’s to be expected.
But what is unexpected is the depth of emotion in many of the situations, particularly Larry’s interactions with his now-teenaged son, eager to make his own way in the world, and the heart-tugging and long-delayed (by 4,000 years) reunion of Rami Malek’s reanimated boy pharaoh and his pharaoh dad, played by Ben Kingsley.
And present for all of it, wistfully watching, is Williams’ Teddy.