There are a lot of new movie releases that I want to see in theaters right now, so it was very difficult to settle on just one when my husband and I went to the cineplex last night. However, since my husband was in the mood to see something light and entertaining, we finally selected National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the sequel to the 2004 hit National Treasure, which grossed more than $173 million at the box office. I really enjoyed the first film, and was looking forward to seeing this second one. Unfortunately, the formula that worked so well three years ago came off as being, well, formulaic this time. The result was a film that was flat and boring, with none of the excitement or wonder of the original.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The film opens with treasure hunter Benjamin Gates (played by Nicolas Cage) giving a lecture about why his great-grandfather Thomas Gates should be considered a Civil War hero. But just as the lecture ends, a man in the crowd says that he has one of the missing pages from the diary of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. The page lists Thomas Gates as one of the co-conspirators, which would obviously change everything that Ben and his father Patrick (Jon Voight) have thought about their ancestor.
The accuser is Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), a black market artifacts dealer who wants to bring some historical glory to his own family. Wilkinson gives the missing page to Ben so he can compare it to the original diary. It seems to be a fit, but Ben still doesn’t believe his great-grandfather was involved. He wants to run some additional tests on the fragment, so he calls up old pal Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), who is now a best-selling author. Riley needs to help Ben break into his old house since his girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) kicked him out. Ben needs Abigail’s ID so he can get to a spectral imaging machine to check out the fragment.
Sure enough, there’s a cipher on the diary page. That sets the rest of the plot in motion, as Ben, Patrick, Riley, and Abigail try to clear Thomas Gates’ name. Ben firmly believes that Thomas, in accordance with family legend, burned the diary pages to prevent the Confederacy from finding the so-called Cibola, a Native American City of Gold. If the Confederacy had been able to get their hands on that kind of capital, the outcome of the Civil War would have been different.
The treasure hunt leads from Washington, D.C. to Paris and London, before finally winding its way back to D.C. again. The ultimate clue lies in the Book of Secrets, a tome that passes from U.S. President to U.S. President and contains the nation’s biggest secrets. The book is supposedly kept in the Oval Office, which of course poses quite a problem for Ben and his team.
Nevertheless, Ben manages to succeed in the face of all these obstacles (as well as near-constant pursuit from Wilkinson) and find the City of Gold — near Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.
My Reaction: As I said, I really enjoyed the first National Treasure movie, but I was completely disappointed by this one. Everything unfolded more or less in the exact same way as in the first movie, but because I was familiar with the gimmicks, they simply weren’t fun anymore. It also seemed like everything happened much too quickly in Book of Secrets. The filmmakers didn’t bother setting anything up and waiting for a good payoff. Instead, Gates and his team get a clue, and three minutes later, they’ve already solved it and have moved on to the next one.
I liked the first one so much because the team actually had to work at solving the clues. This time, everything came far too easily — including that harebrained scheme to “kidnap” the President. In one scene Ben says the only chance he has of getting to the Book of Secrets is if he can ask the President about it point-blank, which means they would have to be alone. In the very next scene, the team is in place to converge on the President’s birthday bash. Whaaat? With no planning at all?
I was also disappointed with the Cibola reveal. It was almost the same as the Freemason treasure room from the first movie, but this one was a lot less jaw-dropping. There should have been far more gold, far more glittering, far more… treasure.
Even the comedic moments seemed a bit forced in this film. Riley, who was so funny in the first movie, was trying way too hard in this one. Almost everything he said was intended to be humorous, but only a few of his one-liners actually evoked laughs. The best part was when he got in the car expecting to drive, only to realize that there was no steering wheel in front of him because they were in England. Other than that, I can’t remember any other truly funny moments with him.
Overall, I think Book of Secrets really missed the mark. When the entire cast returns for a sequel, and you have the addition of great actors like Ed Harris and Helen Mirren, then audience expectations will understandably be high. Book of Secrets fell well short of what I thought it would be, so I’m giving it just 3 stars out of 5.