Warning: This review contains a few spoilers.
Nicholas Cage is back as Ben Gates amid a flurry of conspiracy theories, cypher codes, exotic locales, sumptuous atmosphere, sharp humor and first rate actors. Unfortunately, a dazzling plot did not arrive with him. In this less-than-stellar sequel, Cage and his fellow cast members, such notables as Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Ed Harris, Bruce Greenwood and Helen Mirren, and also the lesser known, but equally gifted Justin Bartha and Diane Kruger, are assembled again with high expectations and little to show for it, at least in the ways apparently intended. Yet out of the ashes of what should have been an utterly forgettable showing, these same fine actors give us treasures we did not expect to find: a care for their characters and for the future of their tumultuous relationships.
At stake are the world’s most treasured secrets, hidden in a book meant for the President of the USA’s eyes only and stored in a location which seems utterly contrary to expected secrecy tradecraft protocols. Gates desires to clear his ancestor’s name from accusations of masterminding the Lincoln assassination. Jeb Wilkinson (Ed Harris), the descendent of an assassination plot participant, desires to find hidden treasure and knows that his only hope is to reel in Gates to solve the perplexing clues, and subsequently lead him to the holdings.
But many complications occur, as is the nature of ambitious globe-trotting treasure-seeking quests. Most notable among the complications are the strained relationships between Gates and his ex-wife, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and Gates’s mother and father (Helen Mirren and Jon Voight). Comic relief is brought by the brilliant, but relationally hapless Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), who yearns for the respect afforded his insensitive partner, Gates, and who also desires a relationship with a woman, but always manages to be overlooked until the very end.
The interactions between Gates and his jealous partner Poole, Gates and his frustrated-with-him ex-wife Chase (he knows when she is angry because she always starts out with the word “so”), and the elder Gates (Voight) and his ex-wife Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren) create a stirred-up cauldron of interpersonal conflict far more interesting than the alleged cypher codes, chase scenes, distant locales, secret maps, subterranean caverns full of booby traps and gold, and far more potentially lethal than anything the bad guys (Wilkinson and his not-so-bright lackeys) could contrive to dish out against the reluctant co-conspirators (no one really believes that the heroes are really in any danger, a characteristic not shared by National Treasure’s much better predecessor, the Indiana Jones movies).
So (shades of Abigail here) we are left with a forgettable plot and characters who live on, offering a possibility of reconciliation simply by unlocking the most perplexing cypher known to afflict human relationships: loving communication. In essence, both elder and younger Gates learn to listen to their once-beloveds, thereby winning their hearts once again. As a bonus, Poole learns to relax from being jealous and quite unexpectedly attracts the attention of a beautiful admirer of his literary work, one which so few others seem to have read until the end when it counted most.
I recommend National Treasure if you want to relax and not think too much, or if you can overlook a mediocre plot for the sake of enjoying fine actors at work. But if you want to be dazzled by a riveting plot line, this one might frustrate you.
The movie is rated PG for scenes of violence and action. Older elementary kids should be fine as long as they are not prone to nightmares. The beginning of the movie implies, but does not directly show, troubling violence, specifically the assassination of President Lincoln and the murder of the ancestor of Gates. The subterranean scene is harrowing for the faint of heart. Also there is a scene of a large truck nearly running into pedestrians in Paris while chasing the heroes. Predictably, no one gets hurt, but young children will still be frightened.