National Treasure Sequel Won’t Make Viewers Feel Any Richer
By Bob Garver
The success of the original National Treasure in 2004 really had more to do with the timing of the release than with
the film itself. It was a family-friendly adventure movie from Disney released in time for Thanksgiving. Of course it did
well, it got to dominate a holiday weekend. Now Disney wants to repeat this success by releasing National Treasure: Book
of Secrets so that it can dominate Christmas ’07. With that kind of built-in success, there’s no need for
the film to be any good. Which it isn’t.
As is typical of sequels, we soon find out that things weren’t quite so “happily ever after” after the
first Treasure. Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage) and his girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) didn’t stay together
very long and Benjamin has moved back in with his father Patrick (Jon Voight). Benjamin’s assistant Riley (Justin Bartha)
is doing even worse. Nobody credits him with finding the original treasure, his accountant cheated him out of his share,
and the IRS is breathing down his neck for an even larger amount. But at least the Gates family is well-respected, right?
A stranger named Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) is trying to take even this away from Benjamin. Wilkinson claims to have a
“missing” page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth, implicating Benjamin’s great-grandfather as an accomplice
in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Benjamin doesn’t deny that his great-grandfather burned that particular page,
but only because it had a clue to a treasure on it that he didn’t want to fall into Confederate hands. Benjamin decides
that the only way to discredit Wilkinson is to find the treasure himself, to prove that it exists and was indeed on the burned
page instead of the implication in the assassination. Why the former proves the latter is a gaping plot hole, but it’s
enough of an excuse for more treasure huntin’ fun.
From here, the film progresses much like the first. Benjamin and his team have to find clues to the treasure all around
the world, usually in restricted areas that require them to evade security. They have to fly a remote-controlled plane with
a mounted camera around a copy of the Statue of Liberty in France, much to the chagrin of city officials who don’t like
the buzzing. They have to look in a forbidden desk in Buckingham Palace. They have to look in another forbidden desk in
the Oval Office. Oh, and they also have to get the president alone so they can ask if he’ll let them take a look at
the Book of Secrets.
The Book of Secrets itself is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film, so it was a pretty good idea to put it right
there in the title. The story behind the Book is that the answers to the most important questions in the country’s
history are all together in a book that only the President can read. The Book contains the truths behind the Kennedy assassination,
Watergate, Area 51, and probably Donald Trump’s hair. But Benjamin just wants to peek at it so he can find a measly
treasure in Mount Rushmore.
The people who buried the treasure went to great lengths to keep it protected, to point where one wonders why they didn’t
just destroy it. The treasure chamber is protected by a series of booby traps which make for great action sequences, but
make absolutely no sense. For example, one trap is a rickety platform suspended unevenly over a deadly pit. The only way
to survive it is to put enough weight on one end to swing the other end up to a ladder. This makes for an intense sequence
where Benjamin and his team try to figure out a way to move on without plummeting. The sequence is indeed exciting, but there’s
no reason for the trap to be there. The treasure was hidden in the first place so it would be kept out of the wrong hands,
but the trap doesn’t discriminate between right and wrong. It would make more sense if there was a way to get past
the trap that only the right kinds of people would have or know about (something as simple as a key would do just fine).
But the way off the platform turns out to be something completely logical that anyone could figure out. Therefore, the trap
is only useful for providing an action sequence for this movie.
Does the film have a happy ending? If the Disney logo at the beginning of the film doesn’t answer that for you, then
I’m not about to give you any spoilers. It does leave a loose end involving the Book of Secrets that sets the National
Treasure franchise up for a third installment. As long as that one does well at the box office, who’s to say there
won’t be a fourth? Or a fifth? There’s potential for an unlimited number of sequels here. I’m going to
look at this optimistically: there’s potential for an unlimited number of chances for the same team to make a better
film than Book of Secrets.