National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Nicolas Cage reprises his role as treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates in movie No. 2 of a high-impact but PG-rated action series.
In this sequel to the surprise 2004 action-adventure hit National Treasure, Nicolas Cage reprises his role as renowned treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates. This time around, the byzantine-but-never-boring plot is driven by the appearance of a long-lost page from Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth's diary that implicates Ben's great-great-grandfather as a co-conspirator.
The only way to clear his ancestor's name, it turns out, is to locate a legendary Native American city of gold known as Cíbola—a city long since dismissed by, well, pretty much everyone as the stuff of imagination. A series of clues takes Ben on a high-stakes global scavenger hunt that leads from Paris to London, from Washington, D.C., to Mt. Rushmore, and from the desk of the Queen of England to the desk of the President of the United States.
Returning to aid the intrepid explorer on his latest mission impossible are tech guru Riley Poole, ex-girlfriend Abigail Chase and his irascible father, Patrick Gates. Ben's mother, the feisty Emily Appleton (who turns out to be one of the world's foremost experts on pre-Colombian civilization) gets roped into the action too—despite the fact that she and Patrick haven't spoken for 32 years.
Hot on their heels is the mysterious and nefarious Mitch Wilkinson, who has his own murky reasons for wanting to find the treasure but needs Ben to do the heavy lifting for him.
As evidence mounts that Cíbola may actually exist, one final piece of the puzzle remains. Unfortunately, it's locked away in a book of national secrets intended for the president's eyes only. But a trifling thing like presidential secrecy is hardly enough to deter Benjamin Franklin Gates.
This fictional story is dotted with real history. Some of it is treated rather loosely, but it will still inspire some to pursue a few more facts on their own.
Ben and Patrick are driven by a fierce desire to clear their family name of infamy. Thus, the value of family and a good reputation is characterized as something worth preserving, something worth going to great lengths to protect and honor. Accordingly, almost all of the main characters risk life and limb to help absolve the late Thomas Gates of murderous intent. Patrick and Emily display deep affection for their son in the process.
Ben's good character is also evident in the fact that he's very concerned about innocent people being hurt during a London car chase, whereas Mitch plows through city streets with abandon and gives no thought to possible pedestrian casualties. We eventually learn that Mitch wants to redeem his family's legacy as well, but he's willing to go to any length to accomplish the task—unlike Ben, who refuses to put others in jeopardy to accomplish the same means.
One humorous, but significant, theme is how both estranged couples, (Ben and Abby; Patrick and Emily) learn to move past their conflicts toward deeper commitment. In both cases, the conflict centers around the two men's arrogant, know-it-all attitudes, which Abby and Emily find intolerable. The men learn to listen to their significant others' complaints about their self-centered character flaws, paving the way to renewed relationship and deeper love.
The plot of the first National Treasure turns in large measure on the subjects of the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. These issues have no connection to this new story, but are briefly mentioned a couple of times in connection with a conspiracy-theory book Riley has written called The Templar Treasure. (It's worth noting that the film's promotional materials do include Freemasonry images and symbols).
There's a passing reference to a secretive Confederate organization dubbed Knights of the Golden Circle. Among ancient Native American artifacts are a large altar and various gold-covered idols.
As the film opens, we learn that Ben and Abby had been living together but have broken off their relationship. Before the final credits, they've gotten back together, and Abby invites Ben to move back in with her. (Tired of Ben crashing at his place, Patrick encourages him to do it.)
Women are shown with cleavage-baring shirts. Abby, especially, has a penchant for plunging necklines. In one scene, she uses a dress that showcases a lot of cleavage to help her manipulate a man she's just begun dating into letting her and Ben into the Oval Office. To distract him while Ben searches the president's desk, she keeps bending over to keep his eyes occupied (a strategy that works very effectively). She also uses a lengthy kiss to prevent him from noticing Ben's activities. Elsewhere, couples kiss two or three times.
Tense, suspenseful action is part and parcel of National Treasure: Book of Secrets. The violence is often victimless and bloodless. But there are a couple of significant exceptions. The movie opens with the shooting of Ben's great-great-grandfather, who succumbs to his wounds in front of his young son. We also see John Wilkes Booth raise his gun at the back of President Lincoln's head, and we hear the shot (without seeing it). It's implied that one of Gates' adversaries is trapped and killed by raging water in an underground crypt. We also glimpse brief but creepy images of skulls and corpses (including one with a sword piercing it).
More generally, frenetic chase scenes include crashing, colliding cars and terrified civilians scampering madly out of their path; Mitch and his men take aim at Gates and Co. with pistols in one chase, blowing out car windows. Several characters are held at gun- or knifepoint.
An ancient underground city is laden with Raiders of the Lost Ark-type booby traps that necessitate multiple dramatic escapes from peril.
Crude or Profane Language
An exclamation each of "my god" and "gosh."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Emily twice mentions how tequila played a crucial role in her falling for Patrick. Ben smears unnamed alcohol from a flask on his face and takes a swig in order to appear drunk in one ruse; in another, he wanders into the presidential birthday bash carrying a bottle of wine, acting drunk and pretending to be looking for a woman. Revelers drink in a D.C. tavern the night Lincoln is assassinated. Mitch and his men are shown consuming what appears to be an alcoholic drink.
Other Negative Elements
Ben and Patrick's determination to clear their family name is laudable. Their willingness (along with others') to lie, manipulate, assume false identities and trespass in the process is not. It makes for a good story, of course, and moviegoers will surely be tempted to dismiss their actions completely because those otherwise problematic choices are made in the service of an honorable end—and because the Gates family does not intend harm. Still, the message sent by their frequently illegal shenanigans is that the rule of law isn't as important as your belief that you're doing the right thing.
Reinforcing that message is the president's reaction to Ben when the treasure hunter successfully tricks him into exploring a hidden tunnel on George Washington's Mt. Vernon property. When a brick wall cuts Gates and the president off from Secret Service agents, Ben's actions have technically turned the situation into a kidnapping. (Though Ben tells the president exactly how to get out of the secret tunnel they're in and never threatens or restrains him physically.) The president tells Ben that he'll have to charge him with kidnapping unless Ben can discover the treasure he's looking for. Because that discovery would be historically significant—and thus benefit the president's reputation and esteem—the leader of the free world promises a pardon if Ben is successful.
British police pursuing Ben break into a restroom stall and find a startled man there. (The camera never looks lower than mid-torso.)
A mythic city. Conspiracy theories. Ingeniously encoded clues. A besmirched family legacy. A frantic race to unearth historic treasure. Such is the stuff of National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
Hurdles first: One of the real disappointments here is the film's matter-of-fact attitude toward Ben and Abby's once-and-future cohabitation. It wasn't long ago that such a situation would have received societal censure—or at least a comment or a raised eyebrow. The fact that it is treated as a total non-issue conveys the attitude, "That's just the way things are. Living together isn't any different than marriage." Add Abby's willingness to use her cleavage as a manipulative tool, and everyone's eagerness to bend and break rules to get the job done, and the film scores somewhat lower marks than its advertising would seem to indicate.
But as was the case in the first film, director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have intentionally dialed down content issues in an attempt to appeal to viewers of all ages. Turteltaub said of this approach, "We wanted to make a big, full-scale action film that didn't exclude kids. My attitude is if you make a 'kids movie,' you'll blow it. Instead, make a movie kids can see."
He's mostly made good on that promise. Vulgarity, which can often be an issue even in PG-rated fare, has been virtually eliminated. The violence and action are sometimes intense but not graphic or bloody (though the adventurers' encounters with a couple of mummified corpses could be images that stay with some viewers, and we also watch two shootings early on).
So no matter what fans of R-rated shoot-'em-ups might say, exciting, engaging and imaginative action movies don't have to swim around with the sharks of excessive violence, obscene interjections and explicit sex. The National Treasure movies, while not perfect, are now two-for-two on the way toward proving that.