The first National Treasure film was a pleasant enough diversion, combining action and adventure with a touch of mythbusting and a nod to Dan Brown, but never really succeeded in claiming the ground held for so many years by the untouchable Indiana Jones series. (It did, however, end up a better film than The Da Vinci Code, which it preceded by six months.) Three years on Book of Secrets joins its elder sibling and shares most of its flaws and almost none of its fun.
Treasure-hunting national icon Ben Gates (Cage) and his squeeze Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) are now no longer an item, having grown weary of each other in the time since National Treasure and their recovery of incredible (and incredibly valuable) artefacts under the Trinity Church in New York City. Gates has moved out of their shared mansion, back home with his father (Jon Voight as Patrick Gates), while third tombraider Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is busy publicising his book and finding that his newfound fame is shallow indeed. The announcement that new documents implicate a Gates ancestor in the assassination of President Lincoln prompts the old crew to team up once more to investigate the claims and prove Thomas Gates’ innocence, while discovering there is in fact more than one treasure hidden within the borders of the United States.
The fact that the setup is so flimsy is not really the problem with this second National Treasure – it just lacks the energy and fun of the first in the series. National Treasure was not a good film, but it possessed an air of awareness of its status and had fun with it, while at the same time staging some reasonably exciting action scenes. Book of Secrets unfortunately fails to recapture its essence, and suffers by comparison. The bravado of the characters in their treasure-hunting activities is still present – there are obvious comparisons between certain set piece sequences in each film, where one can imagine the writers trying to stick to the formula that made National Treasure a box office success. Perhaps three years on and after the failure of films like The Da Vinci Code, audiences will be ready for more; however, the whole exercise feels tired and uninspiring.
The use of Bartha as essentially nothing more than comic relief falls flat, with the miseries that befall him not in the least amusing, and Poole is left as a sidekick who sucks energy out of the film rather than adding to it. It seems Kruger can speak English now, but perhaps she could have hoped for a better reaction than to note her improved linguistics, and Cage seems pretty much on autopilot. The only positive is the addition of Helen Mirren as Gates’ mother, who provides a spark to Voight’s character with their fighting and banter.
Fans of the first National Treasure film may be sorely disappointed by the tedium of sitting through Book of Secrets, and for those uninitiated to the franchise it may be best not to bother. There are certainly better films to watch this festive season…Rating: