National Treasure: Book of Secrets furthers its improbable mystery to conceal repetition. A sequel was destined after the predecessor’s bountiful success. Never mind the discovery of an entire hall worth of jewelled artefacts founded by the Knights Templar and obscured by Freemasons. National Treasure was box office gold, the real valuable riches in this instance. Disney and Bruckheimer understood that more treasured possessions needed to be found. Audiences craved the treasure hunting adventures of old. “How to fulfil that desire?”, you may ask. Well, just repeat the exact same narrative structure, only this time make it “International Treasure”. Gates must follow a set of clues to find the legendary Cibola (lost city of gold) and prove that his great-great-grandfather was not a conspirator and architect of Lincoln’s assassination.
This leads the gang to explore various locales, including Paris where apparently the most pleasant French police officers reside, London which sees Cage exercise his exaggerated British accent by shouting “haggis” (of all words...) in Buckingham Palace, ultimately leading to his arrest, and back to America to kidnap the President and sprinkle bottled water over Mount Rushmore. Phew! Treasure hunting sure is criminally exhausting. What Book of Secrets does improve from the first instalment, is the brisk flow of the mystery. Sure, National Treasure was incredibly fast paced for a family-friendly feature exceeding a two hour runtime, yet somehow this sequel is twice as fast whilst maintaining the urgency of the central plot. The unreasonably, and unlikely, escalated scenarios that Gates found himself enthralled in, resulted in a momentum that never dissipated. Turteltaub’s flashy direction manages to entertain throughout, swiftly moving from set piece to set piece.
The fundamental issue with Book of Secrets is the ornate familiarity within its story. The screenplay, written by the Wibberley’s, refused to explore other avenues. It’s simple, effective, yet incredibly monotonous. The minimal amount of cryptic puzzles embedded throughout prevented any investigative strands from intertwining with the adventurous aesthetic. The writers instead forced more humour into each scenario, such as pretending to search for a lost earring in the Oval Office, rather than executing any methodology. Humour that didn’t necessarily work. Cage performing one of his infamous “cage rages” in Buckingham Palace was legendary though. Hilarious! Would watch that scene on repeat every day.
The returning cast members were functional with some additional character development thrown in, particularly between Gates and his father. Mirren’s addition as Gates’ mother felt contrived, with a hammy performance to follow. The weakest character however was the antagonistic Wilkinson, equipped with an arc that was schizophrenic in nature. One scene you sympathise with him, the other want to throw him into a spiked booby trap. There was no common ground between him and Gates, making that final bittersweet confrontation emotionless. Although Harris always plays a tasty villain, and does so again here. Just not fully developed.
Book of Secrets is a sequel worth taking a peek at. Flicking through the pages at the same speed to which the feature plays. Rigid and efficient. Yet the familiar secrets that it conceals aren’t worth uncovering.