National Treasure: Book of Secrets

I had the unique experience of walking out of the theater into full view of the United States Capitol after watching Nicolas Cage and company trouncing all over DC. I was almost entranced enough to think Diane Kruger might be waiting for me back at my apartment on Capitol Hill. That probably has little to do with the movie itself, though.

The second installment of what will probably be a twenty-three-movie cash cow picks up after the charm of finding the last treasure has worn off. Riley (Justin Bartha) has written a flop of a book. Abigail (Diane Kruger) has kicked Ben (Nicolas Cage) out of their gigantic house. Worst of all, the Gates’s name is being dragged through the mud after Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) produces a missing page from John Wilkes Booth’s diary implicating Ben’s great-great-grandfather in the Lincoln assassination. The crew embarks on an international trip to solve the clues that will lead them to largest treasure in US history and clear the family name.

This movie fell flat for me. For starters, it felt like the Wibberley’s dropped new clues into the old formula. Ben and Riley encounter similar situations – just in different locations and with a different treasure to pine after – complete with a rival treasure hunter with Goon #1 and Goon #2 at his side to get them into fun car chases.

The second fundamental problem is a lack of tension. Ben Gates is too perfect. He solves everything quickly without fail – so much so that there’s never any worry that he won’t succeed through to the end. The sirens never start blaring before they’ve found the clue or figured out the puzzle. They’re never in any danger of being caught until after they’re on the way out. If the movie can teach us anything, it’s that the most personal spaces of the most important leaders in the world are pretty easy to access if you can set off a fire alarm.

Perhaps I didn’t understand the relationship dynamics, but they all seemed fairly superfluous. Abigail has broken up with Ben, but they get right back together without much ado. Patrick Gate’s (Jon Voight) ex-wife hasn’t spoken to him in over thirty years, but helps them out for little more than asking. An attempt at humanizing the main antagonist near the end seems laughable. Essentially, every faux-dramatic relationship problem is as easily solved as the puzzles put before Ben Gates. Without much effort, the whole movie seems like little more than a semi-fun distraction. A History Channel feature with better production value.

Essentially, enjoying this movie boils down to whether or not you want to be nudged in the side and winked at by a film for two hours, then filled with obscure fun facts about United States history along the way. Ben Gates undertakes the most impossible feats – kidnapping the President, breaking into the Queen’s personal office – but he does it with such ease that it makes one wonder if the writers took the challenge seriously at all to begin with.

After Ben Gates gives an impassioned speech about his ancestry to the President, he responds saying, “People just don’t think like that anymore”. Whether it’s an indictment of culture or not, it makes the film seem too aware that a modern audience won’t really care about the catalyst for the treasure hunt. Call me shallow, but clearing the good name of my great-great-grandfather just doesn’t seem that pressing to me. If you think it would matter to you, try to name someone who assassinated Lincoln other than Booth. Hell, I honestly can’t even name my own great-great-grandfather.

Watching this movie in Union Station and walking home in the shadow of the Capitol had a certain appeal to it, but I didn’t want to break into the Washington Monument to search for hidden panels. A really good adventure movie can make you want to be Neo, to be Luke, to be Indiana. When meandering down Massachusetts with my eye on the dome, I yawned, and realized I just had no desire to be Benjamin Franklin Gates.

Grade: C

The Upside: Fun facts aplenty!

The Downside: Tension not aplenty!

On the Side: There was a Goofy cartoon before the film. How awesome is that? I can only hope that the trend of having shorts before the feature becomes popular again. I wouldn’t want to see War reels, and maybe it’s only possible with Disney films, but it was nostalgic in a really cool way. I also hope the trend of using the word “aplenty” becomes popular again.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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