National Treasure: Book of Secrets is virtually the same movie as its predecessor, just this time, it has booked fresh American and international locations and a new treasure map for Ben Gates and company.
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Continuing the treasure hunt with fictional events consolidated with historical trivia, this sequel to the National Treasure franchise has a particular confidence and an easy energy helping this action adventure flick achieve its modest goal to provide mild fun and escapist entertainment. Gates’ ridiculous plans to get whatever he’s after may ludicrously mean jumping from one preposterous plot development to another… but with a suspension of ample disbelief, the treasure-seeking still makes it a fun-filled romp for those who are merely into the hide-and-seek plot, nice locales and international landmarks, and dumb fun in checking out conspiracy-based, code-cracking mystery adventure.
This second Jerry Bruckheimer National Treasure adventure helmed by Jon Turteltaub, also the director of the franchise’s first installment, is not without charm. However, it lacks the smart thrill seeker’s joy of discovery. Rather than just simply tossing the same formula, it could have worked better if there’s a higher level of sophistication in the treasure hunting part, or maybe the thematic or the emotional parts, than just ultimately depending on the popcorn fun.
The movie plays less on the lingering puzzles where the audience can be deeply involved. Here, you’re a mere spectator to far-fetched scenarios that run out of energy towards its end. Yet, interestingly so, though this film is clearly nothing more than a brainless fun of breaking and entering, it keeps holding on to you with a moderately pleasing diversion of what seems like a monumentally silly plot becoming a shockingly goofy and enjoyable fare for the generally undemanding audience.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets plays fast and loose with history and reality. It maintains its thrill and appeal through its action set pieces and comic relief. For the commercial selling part of showing historical sites in Paris, London, Washington, and Mt. Rushmore, it becomes a sort of a far-fetched vacation scrapbook and leaps around like a choppy travel show where you can get the chance to feast your eyes a bit on the many locales and historical landmarks and the secret codes.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets generally has the same production team from the director to the writers to nearly all the major performers. Treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin “Ben” Gates (Nicolas Cage) searches for the truth behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by uncovering the mystery within the missing pages of the diary of the assassin John Wilkes Booth (Christian Camargo). In doing so, Ben can also clear his family’s name after Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) accuses his great, great grandfather, Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch), as the real mastermind for Lincoln’s assassination. And the treasure map makes its way to the story from here.
Cage proves that enjoyable characters can make up for a lot of bad plot. He brings enough enthusiasm to the character to get the audience wrapped up in his geeky rationalizing and historical hopping. Interestingly, there are three Oscar winners gracing the film in their supporting performances and they give a fair share of acting believability for the movie amidst having considerably one-dimensional roles. Jon Voight as Ben’s father Patrick Gates and Helen Mirren as Ben’s mother and Patrick’s estranged wife Emily Appleton provide adequate breathing moments as they argue about who is responsible for the failure of their marriage. Mirren also strengthens the film’s female roles. She helps out with uplifting the mediocre performance of leading lady Diane Kruger. Cage and Kruger as his x-girlfriend Abigail Chase seem to lose much of the chemistry in this installment more than the way their roles as past lovers separating ways are literally falling out of place. Still providing intermittent comic relief, Justin Bartha as Riley Poole still gets fun throwaway lines amidst the largely predictable action. Ed Harris as the rival treasure seeker tries to make up for what his very raw role can offer.
The physical aspect of the film is considerably fine. The idea of the action sequence with four to five characters trying to maintain the balance of a swaying platform is cool. However, goofs are seen all over; thus, weakening the film big time.
You see the medium-framed Riley picking up a large gold bar. He stuffs it in his bag with one hand without any effort when such piece of gold weighs at least about 40 to 60 pounds. You see Mitch surrendering his gun before joining forces with Ben. But during the balancing platform scene, you see him jumping up to the rope with a gun seen hanging from his belt at the back of his trousers. Obviously, it’s not like the script has actually required him to go cheating on having a hidden gun because he clearly used the knife he found inside the underground treasure spot to blackmail Ben so he can escape. In fact, in the next shot that he climbs the rope, the gun is gone already.
More than anything else, the whole treasure hunt story built on Mitch’s lie about Ben Gates’ great, great grandfather just to get him to hunt treasure is way too facetious. It’s quite a flippant way to create the backbone of the story. He merely wants his name to live in history by seeking the treasure. Through Ben who lived much of his life as a treasure hunter, it generally won’t really take that much convincing for him to find the treasure if he tells him about it outright. It could have further worked if the accusation about Ben’s great, great grandfather is used in the story as a blackmailing strategy for Mitch to get credit of finding and getting the treasure after the skilled and talented Ben does it for him. And they don’t have to go through such an unrealistic slandering and crazy car chasing throughout England, etc. And what ever happened to that bogged down ending where Mitch suddenly becomes the ultimate goodie man? The story and characterization is no less than lazy and shaky.
The popcorn elements are well handled as a series of location-driven vignettes held together by flimsy plots; but the Looney Tunes logic and poor plot devices are major turn offs. Just in case, this franchise needs more steam to merit its third go-round.