National Treasure: Book of Secrets

After watching the first National Treasure that its main characters were extremely lucky. How else would they be able to solve all of these clues? After seeing the sequel, I believe that they are not lucky after all. If they have to go through everything in the first film once again, clearly some sort of higher power (the filmmakers) is conspiring against them. Unfortunately, the joke’s on us, as Book of Secrets is pretty much the same film as the first National Treasure.

I wonder if it’s possible to describe this film with the same wording as its predecessor. It probably is, except that there are a few exceptions. Ed Harris is the villain this time around, and instead of looking for treasure, the main characters are … looking for treasure that will somehow prove that the great, great grandfather of Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) did not in fact help assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Ben cares so much about his ancestry that he’s willing to put his life (as well as the lives of several of his friends) on the line in order to prove his family’s innocence.

See, Mitch Wilkinson (Harris) has recently come forward with an incriminating document taken from John Wilkes Booth’s diary claiming that Thomas Gates was the mastermind behind the entire assassination plot. That runs contrary to the story that Ben and his father, Patrick (Jon Voight), have been telling people at local conferences, and is therefore shrouding their credibility. In their story, Thomas burned these pages in order to protect the location of the City of Gold from everyone, as knowing its location would shatter the world or something. It doesn’t matter.

So, know that this discrepancy has arisen, Ben has to once again go from place to place in order to find clues left behind by other people in order to discover the City of Gold for himself, which will in turn clear his great, great granddaddy’s name. Or so he hopes. This plot point ends up being a reason that is quickly forgotten, especially once lives and relationships are put on the line.

While National Treasure didn’t have any distinguishable characters, its love story concluded simply: Abigail (Diane Kruger) and Ben decided to live together. In this one, they begin separated because Ben isn’t very good at listening or communicating. This is a problem that plagues Ben’s father as well, as we learn that he and his ex-wife, Emily (Helen Mirren), haven’t spoken in over three decades. When Emily’s help is needed, it’s awkward for everyone.

You can probably see where that idea is going. Both males will attempt to fix their relationships while risking life and limb in search of treasure. The parallels here aren’t exactly staggering. You have to give Book of Secrets some credit, as it’s at least trying to develop its characters. I mean, it doesn’t exactly work, and the fact that the females and males aren’t supposed to be getting along isn’t brought up as often as one might think, but at least the thought was there, and that counts for something after it was completely overlooked in the first installment.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets takes the “bigger is better” approach to making a sequel, exploring more exotic and unexpected locations, while also more frequently putting its characters’ lives in danger. Would it shock you to learn that the White House becomes one of their locales to infiltrate? And even the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) gets involved at one point. Things keep building and building, and it’s almost impossible for you to not feel thrilled after one thing after another goes wrong or gets more dangerous.

Except that’s exactly what happens. There was something about the first National Treasure that felt riskier, like the stakes were actually fairly high. They’re undeniably higher in Book of Secrets, and yet I was never thrilled. Here is a film in which lives are actually put in danger, and yet I found myself not caring. In the first film, when a theft of the Declaration of Independence was being pulled off, I found myself becoming involved. In this one, even when rocks are falling and the water is rising, I found a wave of apathy splash over me, like I just couldn’t be bothered. I can’t explain exactly why this is, as I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but I know that this isn’t as thrilling a film as it needs to be.

I initially thought it was the lack of character depth, but going back to my earlier comment, there is an attempt at some in this film. The chemistry between Cage and Kruger was even kind of sweet. So I knew it couldn’t be that. I think it might have something to do with the characters typically having less to do with what’s happening, or at least, it feels that way. In the first film, there were a couple of puzzles that Ben had to solve, even though he did seem to get lucky more often than not in finding the solution. In this one, the clues are found really quickly, and anyone could have done it. They act more like pit stops than genuine challenges, and I got tired of that. You know there’s no danger because these people still have a few places to travel to. That’s my best guess, anyway.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets is a subpar sequel to a silly, stupid, yet fun movie. There aren’t as many thrills this time around, and the clues act more like big arrows pointing to the next one than genuine obstacles to overcome. The characters do get some depth, which is nice, and I liked Cage and Kruger together, but the film just didn’t hold up as a whole. It felt very much like the first film, right down to the obligatory chase scene, but it just didn’t work as well this time around.

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