Nicholas Cage as Ben Gates
Justin Bartha as Riley Poole
Diane Kruger as Abigail Chase
Jon Voight as Patrick Gates
Helen Mirren as Emily Appleton
Ed Harris as Mitch Wilkinson
Harvey Keitel as Sadusky
Bruce Greenwood as The President
Sequels are a tricky business; they’re required by their nature to deliver the same general action as the original, but they’re desired to do so in a completely different way than before. The result is usually ‘more of the same’ with an emphasis on the more part by raising the stakes of the action at the expense of any sort of actual growth. In that context, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is a perfectly ordinary Hollywood sequel.
Typically, the first act then is to try and return the heroes to the same state as the first film, regardless of what kind of success they’d previously had. For instance, the main romantic pair are broken up for some vague reason so that they can engage in the same banter and sexual tension as before (check), they’re suddenly in dire financial straits (check) and any fame that’s been garnered has been completely reversed (check). It’s the last that’s the most important for “Book of Secrets,” as the sudden revelation that famous treasure hunter (and patriot nonpareil) Ben Gates’ (Nicolas Cage) family may have been intricately involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln sends him rushing about the world looking for the proof that exonerates his family name and, coincidentally, another stupendous treasure. The torturous plot contortions writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberley have to go through to make that work are actually painful to watch.
Director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer seem to be betting that all their audience really want are more clues and riddles for Gates and right hand man Riley (Justin Bartha) to figure out with various pieces of historical trivia. That’s probably a pretty good bet on their part, and “Book of Secrets” ups the ante over the original “National Treasure” considerably as they are forced to break into Buckingham Palace and eventually to kidnap the president himself to get access to the titular book of secrets, and all in just two hours as well. “Book of Secrets” packs so much into its running time that it never really stops for breath. Gone are the research and build up to the big heist, instead it’s one over the top moment after another.
That being said, “Book of Secrets” still has the same strengths as before, particularly its strong cast, which has been well added to with Helen Mirren as Gates’ historian mother (proving that some men really do only want a woman like their mother) and Ed Harris as the villainous Mitch Wilkinson. The film still benefits from Gates’ altruistic anti-hero nature, a man who sincerely believes in doing the right thing for the right reason and in approaching life in a civilized and good-natured manner, and from trying, as much as possible, to humanize its villain, giving them some sort of realistic reaction to the things they do, at least as far as is possible.
If only it took a little more time with itself, gave a little more time and thought to its characters, rather than trying to do the same thing (but more so) as before. It’s trying to do too much and, at the same time, not enough.
“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is a pretty typical blockbuster sequel, focused intently, too intently, on appeasing what it thinks the audience wants, and missing out on what it takes to make a truly good movie. The result is a mostly entertaining trifle that really could use a little less action and little more introspection.