“Oh look, a little golden man”
National Treasure: Book of Secrets will always be known as the film that prevented Helen Mirren from meeting Queen Elizabeth after the success of The Queen. I mean really, I would have made the same choice, because this film is truly high art. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the first installment for its poor-man’s Indiana Jones feel mixed with glossy effects and convoluted plot lines (Bruckheimerisms as I like to call them) and for the most part had fun with this one. Well that is until the discovery was complete, then the film just dragged on and on for what seemed like hours. This is a Disney film people, you know they will find the treasure and all will be well with the world. Therefore, all the intrigue and the discoveries to find the location of their desire, complete with massively annoying cross cuts between four different locales and ten different characters every five minutes, was totally subverted by the ending’s adventure nonsense with no stakes because we all know how it would turn out. There were two things going for it though, I became real nostalgic for “Legends of the Hidden Temple” and found out that yes, Lyle Lovett is still alive.
I give director Jon Turteltaub and screenwriters The Wibberleys credit for coming up with some real interesting set pieces and situations for our adventurers to partake in. Weaving the Lincoln assassination with ancient Native American lore and United States historical mythology and rumor is quite a feat and it is successfully handled in my opinion. What goes wrong here is the whole mentality that sequels need to be bigger and better. The first film achieved a sort of balance with its amount of characters, but this one just goes too far. We have to now work in the President and our hero’s mother, who just happens to be one of a handful of people that can decipher the language needed to complete their quest, not to mention throwing Harvey Keitel a bone by giving him five minutes of screentime just so we have continuity with a friendship from the previous story. Honestly, while I enjoyed National Treasure, I never asked for a part two, and I don’t think too many people did. Unfortunately, however, it appears we will probably be seeing a part three in the future if the setup here means anything.
The movie is if nothing else a good time. I admit to being a big Nicolas Cage fan and enjoy his over-the-top shenanigans—they are in full force here and I loved the scene at Buckingham Palace that showcased them. Also, Justin Bartha is priceless as the hapless and underappreciated partner. His expressions and one-liners really add a much-needed dimension here. The rest of the cast is adequate if very underused. There are a lot of familiar faces with thankless roles and many famous ones with little to do. Diane Kruger looks gorgeous as usual, but her role is more female in distress than really adding anything necessary to finding the treasure, unless you count watering rocks.
So, in the end, this film is going to be huge regardless of quality. If you liked the first, you will have a good time. It is not an Oscar winner or any Nobel Prize winning commentary, it’s just a good old-fashioned mindless romp. As far as action/adventure goes, you could do much worse. With some great laughs and some really fascinating connections from history, you may actually learn something on the journey. Never preaching its intelligence, you are allowed to glean nuggets of truth at the same time as the characters that are still in the dark do. Fun is fun, and as far as that goes this one succeeds, despite the fact that it doesn’t in any other cinematic category.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets 5/10 | ★ ★