Rating: 3 of 5
National Treasure: Book of Secrets is fun and has it’s moments, but the whole film could have been as good as those few moments.
I guess I should begin with the opening, which was rather brilliant. The fade from the Jerry Bruckheimer Films logo to the film was just inspired. This is definitely a lovely film. The colors are great and the shots are all good. Even if it had no other merit, this would be a pretty movie to look at.
I think the title is quite apt. It’s not National Treasure 2, because it doesn’t really feel like a sequel. Inevitably, though, it will draw comparisons to the first one so here I go…
This one has more of a sense of fun because the characters aren’t afraid to be silly. Ben freaking out in Buckingham Palace was a delight. A lot of Riley’s one-liners were sort of obvious side kick comments. Except the few times he hit it, it really worked; like the winking while he explained his troubles with the IRS. I also really liked his moment with his book, Ben, if this were you trying to convince me, you’d have less evidence, I’d already believe you and we’d be on our way by now.
Despite the big, dynamic actions scenes there’s less sense of danger in Book of Secrets. It feels less like a bad guy chasing a good guy and more like an intense competition; which is what the first one actually was. Ironic. Part of that, I think, is that Ed Harris isn’t nearly as menacing as Sean Bean.
This movie seems more complicated than the first, though I don’t think it actually is. I mean, I get it. I get why it’s important to them to prove Thomas Gate’s innocence. I get how discovering the lost city of gold accomplishes that (for the most part). But where the first one had these moments of discovery, a sense of a puzzle that unraveled and made sense, this one just seems to have leaps from one plot realization to the next that they explain as they go. It doesn’t feel as fluid or logical as the first one. There isn’t the fun of the puzzle being solved and each piece fitting the others.
One of my favorite scenes embodies several things I’m trying to say and it’s the scene with the president and Ben in the old tunnels. Before Ben ‘kidnaps’ him the president’s journey has the wonder and excitement of discovery the first film did so well. Ben, however, feels rather hollow because he’s not on the same journey. He already knows the answer. That’s how a lot of the second film feels.
Another great thing about that scene is the sense of history, and Book of Secrets does that very well. From the opening moment the legacy of our founding fathers seems to permeate the film infusing it with a sense not just of history but of patriotism without political agenda. I like the part of Ben’s character that believes in the importance of historical legacy, that recognizes a nobility in the men and women who fought to bring this nation into existence over a hundred years ago and thinks we can learn something from them. …whether by innate character or the oath you took to defend the Constitution or the weight of history that falls upon you, I believe you to be an honorable man, sir.
It feels authentic and compelling because the movie happens amid these incredible historical artifacts and because Ben really believes it.
Finally, that scene works so well because after the door closes, they’re trapped and when Ben doesn’t know how things will play out he shows up. Suddenly both actors are really solid and the dynamic between them is interesting. Most of the film is filled with characters saying lines rather than real people of weight and thought and substance. Ben is real here. Helen Mirren is fantastic. Riley has moments of being real. Diane Kruger just wasn’t that good, I’m sorry.
The only lingering question I have is what’s up with page 47? They almost played it like the president wanted Ben to discover what was on it for him. Except it’s his book, so obviously he’s read it or could read it at any time. So, he needed Ben to read it for Ben’s sake? what? why? …or I guess he’d read it but need Ben to interpret it for him?