National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

2010 #56
2007 | Jon Turteltaub | 119 mins | DVD | PG / PG

I enjoyed the first National Treasure. There, I said it. I’ve wound up seeing it several times, somehow, and each time appreciated it as a fun romp. It’s not a fashionable film to like by any means, and it’s certainly derivative of all kinds of other things, not least The Da Vinci Code, but it’s an entertaining and consummate minor blockbuster.

National Treasure 2 (that’s this one, in case you didn’t know) essentially offers more of the same. That’s often levelled as a criticism, but in this instance it’s absolutely fine: Book of Secrets isn’t a rehash — there’s a new mystery with new puzzles — but is another adventure in the same vein, with clue-hunting and the occasional action sequence. Things are different, but it’s rather swings and roundabouts. For example, Ed Harris isn’t as fun a villain as Sean Bean, but he’s also suitably different, while on the other hand the London car chase bests any action sequence in the first film.

There’s also the usual sequel escalation: never mind just getting the Declaration of Independence, here Gates & co not only break into the Queen’s office in Buckingham Palace, they also kidnap the President of the United States (briefly. Sort of.) Yes, it’s wildly improbable, not only in the clue-laden treasure hunt but also the feats this three-person team pull off. But that’s half the fun. It doesn’t claim to be real — OK, it uses historical facts, but they’re to embellish its tale, in the same way many higher-class films have — it’s just an entertaining ride, with some exciting action, intriguing clues, and the odd bit of humour.

The cast are fine. The unforgiving will find Justin Bartha’s Riley irritating, but by making him a tad down on his luck and a little devoted to Gates he may endear himself to others. Aside from Ed Harris, Helen Mirren is the biggest addition, though both make little more than a cameo when there are so many other characters and plot points flying around. The main attraction of her role is pondering her accent — is it meant to be American? I wasn’t sure. Perhaps she was doing a very good job of being A Brit Who’s Lived In America For A Long Time, but that’s a mite too subtle for all the noise and bluster in a fast-paced conspiracy adventure-thriller.

There are plot holes and logic gaps and it rather leads you by the hand through it all, but none of these undermine what it’s really all about. Either that or I was in a particularly forgiving mood — even the thoroughly daft bit with the traffic camera didn’t bother me too much. It’s not the highest class of blockbuster, it won’t be remembered as fondly as Indiana Jones, or even the Pirates series, but there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours, particularly if all you want is a bit of well-made light entertainment.

If you enjoyed the original, I see little reason why you wouldn’t enjoy the sequel; conversely, if you didn’t like the first one… I’m sure you can finish that sentence. It’s the kind of film that would probably sit quite well on, say, a Bank Holiday afternoon. Which is a stroke of luck.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of National Treasure: Book of Secrets is on BBC One tomorrow, Bank Holiday Monday, at 4:35pm.

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