Pigs are flying and Hell has frozen over! I actually liked National Treasure: Book of Secrets, an accomplishment I didn't know was possible. I was not a huge fan of the first movie, and my hatred of the picture mounted as it made a killing at the box office and received relatively warm reviews, something I to this day do not understand. My hatred has lessened of late as I decided to watch National Treasure again and found it relatively entertaining, though I am still utterly confused as to how someone could label it a "quality" movie.
Anyway, National Treasure 2 picks up where the first one left off: Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is no longer a laughable eccentric; instead, he's a world renowned (and rich) treasure hunter, his sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) has pretty much conceded that despite his efforts he will never be anything more than a tag-along, and Ben's girlfriend (Diane Kruger) has left him and is now dating a white house aide. So maybe that's not exactly where the first movie left off, but jumping to the point, a rival treasure hunter comes forth with "evidence" that suggests Ben's great-great-grandfather (or brother-of-his-third-cousin-in-law-on-his-sister's-side-twice-removed) was one of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination. Ben is deeply offended by this notion and sets out to prove that this other dude (Ed Harris) is wrong, which leads him on a wild chase around the world (which means a very quick trip to Paris, a slightly longer trip to Great Britain and 90 percent in the United States) to find the Lost City of Gold. Who knew the Lost City of Gold would prove his ancestors' innocence in the Lincoln trial, but if you want intelligent plot points, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is probably not the best place to look.
Personally, I would find it neat that one of my ancestors was involved in something as heinous as an assassination; I like Lincoln as much as the next American, but I think after so many years and generations, you're bound to become complacent about your ancestors... But no! Nicolas Cage has to get so worked up about it that he decides to kidnap the President of the United States. That's a great way to clear your name when it comes to interfering with Presidents, by the way.
Anyway, jokes aside, National Treasure: Book of Secrets isn't nearly as bad as it looked in the previews. In fact, I found it rather entertaining. My biggest fear was the kidnapping of the President; when I saw that in the previews, I immediately cringed. Yet, amazingly, the Wibberlys, the screenwriters of the film, manage to pull off the partial kidnapping quite well, even if they do still stretch things. And stretching believability and reason tends to go along with the National Treasure movies quite well. After the first one, I conceded to the fact that I wasn't going to get a nail-biting, action-packed, brilliantly written, well acted adventure story, and National Treasure 2 exceeded expectations. Half of the plot points still don't make a ton of sense, and the speed at which Nicolas Cage figures out vague clues is so fast that you're left scratching your head, but director Jon Turteltaub takes advantage of this and keeps the movie going at a pretty good pace. The film is never boring - an issue I had with the original - though it is still a bit long in a few places.
As for the acting and characters, I really don't know what to make of them. The characters are all likable, and the actors seem to be having fun in their roles. In hindsight, they are pretty distinct and somewhat memorable. That being said, the dialogue and acting seems lazy at times. Jon Voight and Helen Mirren are both capable of much more challenging material, and Cage seems to be on autopilot most of the time. Sure, his character is a bit drab and monotone, but why does he have to be like that? Bartha isn't nearly as annoying as he was in the first movie, thankfully.
Overall, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is an enjoyable adventure story filled with some decent action moments and constant entertainment; I wouldn't go as far as to say that it has constant suspense or much suspense overall (because then I'd be comparing it to the Bourne franchise), but it's a fun, mindless adventure from start to finish. My two biggest gripes with the movie - and the franchise - are: 1) Jon Turteltaub isn't a good enough action director to make a movie like this truly excellent, and 2) for the second time now, the movie has failed to develop a truly good villain. Sean Bean was okay in the first film, but what happened to him wasn't all too exciting; Ed Harris here has his moments, but fails to be menacing most of the time. In a mindless adventure story like this, I want a clear cut villain like there was in any of the Indiana Jones movies; I'd want some wishy-washy half-villain.
If you go in with relatively low expectations, National Treasure: Book of Secrets will entertain you. It's no award winner, but it accomplishes what it set out to do. Recommended, amazingly.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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