Cage Match

Nic Cage and his ragtag gang do more history nonsense.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
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National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Release year: 2007 Posted December 1, 2013

Only time will tell /

But you know what they say /

We’ll make it better /

The second time around /

Jesse Frederick

In order to settle nerves, my boyfriend and I killed a bottle of Prosecco and a double gin before boarding a cross-country overnight flight to spend a week with my family. We didn’t pay $160 extra to sit next to each other, so, stuck in the middle seat between a well medicated blonde woman rocking a netbook and a husky but quiet Samoan lady in a hoodie, I decided it was as good a time as any to watch National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The incredible improvements that National Treasure: Book of Secrets makes over its predecessor were treasures in and of themselves. All the things I hated about National Treasure are addressed and folded into the story within the first five minutes: Benjamin Gates (Nic Cage) has seen his relationship fall apart because of his smugness, and his douchey sidekick is bankrupt after mismanaging his fortune. As the plot unfolds, it even addresses problems I now see in the first National Treasure but didn’t notice before. Specifically, how the story of America was only told from the perspective of white people.

The sequel has much better pacing. It gets the cursory exposition out of the way as quickly as possible before firing the fake-history starter pistol. Nic is fantastic from the beginning. The movie cribs from almost every adventure/scavenger hunt film there is, and Nic keeps pace, gleefully working the deli slicer to serve up fresh ham. It’s great.

You’ll thrill as Nic breaks into the office of Her Majesty, the Queen of England, by making a drunken scene and mocking the British; you’ll chill as he manipulates that guy from Modern Family into divulging secrets hidden in the Oval Office. He keeps the necessary elements of Benjamin Gates from National Treasure but also accepts that the writing in Book of Secrets has changed the core of his character.

Nic clearly prepared for this role. He makes connections, and you he feel for his character. You watch Gates become aware of his aggressive and snotty tone, and decide to dial it down to win back his lost love. The emotional Cage-coaster is perfectly timed to go up and down at the right moments. The movie points out that Benjamin Gates’s habit of distancing himself from the woman he loves is actually a pattern shared by all Gates men, which is a great detail that compensates for the emotional hollowness of the original. It also provides an excuse to add a new character: Benjamin’s mother.

And oh what a mother she is. I can’t really describe the glee one feels being drunk and surprised by Helen Mirren in a Nicolas Cage vehicle, but it’s special. The chemistry between her and Jon Voight is fantastic and justifies the relationship between Nic and girl who plays his wife. The movie is well crafted, and the screenwriters, Marianne and Cormac Wibberley, deserve credit here for being fun and character-focused. Then again, there’s no accounting for how much of their original script was used in the film, since IMDB shows eight additional writers attached to the movie.

Character-based writing is always best, because it distracts from the nonsense history. For example, take Buffy the Vampire Slayer: you could put any of those characters in any scenario, and no matter how contrived it was, I would watch every week because I cared about what happened to the character, not what happened next in the plot. This, consequently, is why shows like Heroes fail.

Character-based writing gives the actor something to do. This isn’t necessarily a requirement with Nic Cage, but it helps. Give Nic a character that’s dynamic and point him in a direction and he’ll hang glide off a mountain. In this case, Mount Rushmore.

Movie?
Good? Yeah. Weird.
Nic Cage’s acting?
Good. Better than usual
Did his performance make the movie worse?
No.