Nic Cage is back and running another fine-toothed comb through American history. Hey, treasure hunting isn’t just for guys in cool hats anymore. It’s been almost wholly taken over by dudes with overly long, bad hair. Sorry Indy. National Treasure: Book of Secrets is a worthy enough successor to the first National Treasure movie, and continues its tradition of well, just having a helluva lot of fun with American history. Except perhaps it’s just a little less fun this time around; the Gates family saga has gotten more spastic with the wear and tear of use.
As always, it’s about more than simply finding gold for Ben Gates (Nic Cage). In this second film, our heroic history treasure hunter is out primarily to clear his family’s name. Luckily, the route to doing that is paved with bricks of long lost bullion. When a missing page from Lincoln assassinator John Wilkes Booth’s diary is discovered, Ben Gate’s great great grandfather is accused of being the mastermind behind the Lincoln assassination. To prove his ancestor an innocent patriot, Ben sets out to uncover the real meaning of the diary page, which he believes is the first clue in a treasure map. Guess what? It is.
If there’s a problem with Book of Secrets, it’s that the whole thing has gotten too caffeinated. Director John Turtletaub, perhaps in an effort to follow the built in necessity for a sequel to be bigger and flashier than the original, amps the film up further than it ought to go. Clues fly by fast and furiously, sometimes too fast to really get any sort of hold on what’s going on. Following along with Ben Gates as he leaps from one clue to the next becomes almost an impossible task by the movie’s end, and at some point you’re forced to simply throw up your hands and let whatever happens happen. That’s alright, I was content to sit back and watch all the national monuments on display fly by. You can’t go wrong setting your movie’s finale on Mt. Rushmore.
So maybe the mystery’s not quite as easy to follow, but the character’s still work and the idea of tracking down the true story of historical figures for profit is still a blast. Nic Cage continues to use the uber-nerd persona he’s built up over the years effectively as Gates. Somehow watching him rattle off volumes and volumes of facts is incredibly entertaining. He brings so much enthusiasm to the character, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the history he’s geeking out over hunting. The movies best moments are still the ones where Cage and his crew are simply talking things out, riffing on what they know and sitting around figuring out where it’s going to take them. All the tunnels and traps are only window dressing, a reason to get us to the next historical geek-out session.
The supporting cast is mostly just there. This is Cage’s movie. Jon Voight is effective as his aged father, and Helen Mirren is a nice addition as his mother. Diane Kruger is back as his girlfriend, though honestly they could have brought in any randomly hot blonde to step into the role and no one would have noticed any difference. Justin Bartha is still the perfect sidekick, witty, weird, and funny in all the wrong moments.
National Treasure 2’s script deserves special credit, for giving us a bad guy who’s more than just some sniveling billionaire out for riches. Ed Harris’ plays Ben Gates’ opposition, but the movie’s strength comes more from pitting Gates against the historical clues he must uncover than in pitting him against any human baddie. So, with Gates true opponent being a bunch of clues, Harris ends up with more complexity than the average bad guy and his character, while ultimately forgettable, at least isn’t predictable.
If you liked National Treasure, you’re going to have fun with Book of Secrets. Maybe not quite as much fun, but it’s still a good movie going bet, especially if you’re looking for something to haul the whole family to in this holiday season. Come on, you can’t take grandma to see Dewey Cox. Granny shouldn’t even be allowed to say his name, let alone watch him next to you in a theater. It’s great escapism, but more than that, it’s escapism with substance. It’s fantasy, but enough of it is grounded in real history that the film’s bound to get you interested in the real deal. I know it did for me. The first thing I did when I got home was to Google John Wilkes Booth’s diary. Yes it exists, and yes there really are 18 pages missing. Want to know what might happen if one of them turned up? Hey there’s this movie called Book of Secrets…