National Treasure: Book of Secrets, by Albert W. Vogt III

Because I found National Treasure (2004) so ridiculous, I must not have bothered going to the theater for National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007).  That is what I am telling myself.  I actually thought I had seen it when it premiered, but I have no recollection of it.  After re-watching it on Disney+, all I can say is that if it did pass before my eyeballs back then, I deleted it from my brain.  Whatever memories that floated to the surface of my consciousness, such as when they find the title tome, must have been a part of the trailers.  Who knows?  Who cares?  I do not mean to diminish the enjoyment of those who like this franchise of films, and I know you exist.  At the same time, I had even less of an idea of what was going on here than in the original.

Okay, so, National Treasure: Book of Secrets takes you to Washington, D.C., in 1865 in the throes of celebrating the end of the Civil War.  Though his name is not mentioned in the opening scenes, if you know your history you will recognize the mustachioed face of John Wilkes Booth (Christian Camargo), with an associate, enter a crowded inn.  They walk up to Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch), proclaiming him to be a crack code breaker and asking him to decipher a document.  As he does so, Thomas notices Booth and his associate wearing pins with the letters “KGC.”  This stands for Knights of the Golden Circle, a known cabal of supporters of the Confederacy.  Thomas, being a loyal Union man, immediately tries to throw what he had been working on into the fire, only to have Booth shoot him dead.  With Thomas’ last breath, he tells his son Charles Carroll Gates (Billy Unger) the keyword to the cipher on which he had been working.  Hence, we have yet another Gates’ family secret, just like in the first one.  In modern times, Benjamin “Ben” Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage), finder of the Knights Templar treasure of the last film and now with worldwide recognition, is lecturing at a university on Civil War artifacts.  When it comes time for the obligatory question and answer session, a Southern drawl interjects itself from the back of the room, coming from Mitchell “Mitch” Wilkinson (Ed Harris).  He claims to have a missing page from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, the one that Thomas had tried to burn in 1865.  Ben’s ancestor’s name also appears on the page, along with a number of other conspirators involved in the assassination of president Abraham Lincoln.  When the edges of the pages (miraculously) match with those of that appear to be torn from the journal, the Gates family name is once more imperiled.  This is not necessarily Mitch’s intent.  What interests him more is the partial cipher on the back of the page.  This is also one of the reasons why he approaches Ben, because his family has the key.  Further, Mitch believes it points the way forward to uncovering yet another vast treasure.  For reasons that I could not figure out even after watching the entire film, Ben, along with his father Patrick Henry Gates (Jon Voight), decide they must get to the bottom of this in order to clear their family name.  Patrick stays home, while Ben and his assistant, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), figure out that the clue on the back of the diary page points to the designer of Statue of Liberty, Laboulaye.  Here we go with yet another wild goose chase.  By the way, there are three Statues of Liberty, but of course the one in New York City is not the necessary one.  Instead, they end up in Paris, which then leads them to a desk in Buckingham Palace in London.  They are joined there by Ben’s estranged girlfriend, Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), who is sort of working with Mitch as well.  The desk in question, by the way, is one of two so-called Resolute desks, the other sitting in the Oval Office in the White House, which were given by the United States to England in the nineteenth century as a symbol of the friendship between the two countries.  Through a series of locks, Ben and Dr. Chase locate a mysterious lump of wood hidden in the desk.  At the same time, Mitch, who we find out is a mercenary, wants to take the plank for himself.  Before letting Mitch have it, Ben takes a picture of it.  Their next move is to get Patrick to go with them to see Ben’s mother Dr. Emily Appleton-Gates (Helen Mirren), from whom dad is divorced, and who can make sense of the strange carvings on the wood.  The upshot of the contentious family reunion is that there is a missing piece.  Now our intrepid three must sneak into the White House, which Dr. Chase is able to effect through a new acquaintance since her break-up that works at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  However, the corresponding board is missing.  What they notice instead is a seal that points to the existence of the presidential book of secrets, which excites Riley as he is the only one to believe that it is real.  The bad part is that in order to gain access to it, Ben must carry out a plan to kidnap the president (Bruce Greenwood).  Luckily, the president is a history buff, and during a birthday party for the executive in chief at Mount Vernon, Ben manages to get the president alone and learn of the book’s location.  With Mitch close on their tail, they figure out that it points to a lost Olmec city of gold hidden in the Black Hills behind Mount Rushmore.  Sigh.  Of course, they all go there, Mitch kidnapping Dr. Appleton-Gates into the scheme for added pressure.  Still, Mitch does sacrifice himself when they find their structures made completely of precious stones, doing so to allow the others to escape the ancient traps.  Anyway, somehow this means that Thomas Gates was not a traitor?

As National Treasure: Book of Secrets took you further down the rabbit hole of clues, vague Freemason references, and a whole host of other nonsense, the less I could see the thread that leads to Ben clearing the Gates family name.  At first, it is understandable that he would want, particularly after proving that him and his ancestors were not a bunch of crazies in the last film, to keep it untarnished.  Yet, at the same time, I could not see how having a name appear on a fragment of a partially burned diary page would conclusively prove anything.  But, whatever, okay, you want to nip in the bud, Benny.  So, how does this trail of clues that leads to Cibola (which is portrayed as Olmec, and I guess nobody on the set bothered to do any research on an ancient civilization that originated in Central America!) demonstrate that Thomas Gates had nothing to do with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?  At least it was not made to be the hidden riches of the Knights Templar.  As such, there is not much of a Catholic angle to the film.  Ben maintains his heroic character, willing to originally do what Mitch does at the end, so here is to Christ-like, sacrificial love.  Instead, I will mostly wear my historian hat, and sigh when the films makes the claim that General Custer (who was actually a colonel in 1876 when he was killed in the Black Hills) was just out there looking for gold.  It is hard for me to maintain my Christian demeanor in such moments.

There is little reason to watch National Treasure: Book of Secrets.  Ultimately, it is little different from the first one, with a set of puzzles leading to a fantastic haul of riches.  My only worry in writing the previous sentence is that you will think the first is acceptable to watch.  Neither of them are, and almost anything else would be a better choice.

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