A friend of mine is convinced that Nicolas Cage has 5 truly good films. This is something that she’s maintained for years. The only problem is, she can’t actually remember what all of the 5 films are. There’s Kick Ass obviously and Face/Off. I think she also approved of Lord of War but, after that, things get pretty shaky. I’m pretty sure that National Treasure was one of them but that might just be something I’m choosing to believe. I also feel as though I should point out that her definition of good doesn’t necessarily mean top quality. I think it just means fun to watch. That’s the joy of a Nick Cage film. You don’t go in expecting to be wowed but you at least want to be entertained. You need him to be at just the right level of Cageism so he’s funny without being irritating. National Treasure offers perfect level Cage.
I may have talked about this before but one of my favourite Roget Ebert reviews that I’ve ever read was about National Treasure. I think it’s probably the piece of writing that really made me fall in love with Ebert’s writing. It was funny and brutal but in such a charming way. It’s clear that he was a man who loved watching and talking about films but he wasn’t willing to put up with any old crap. I also enjoyed the fact that he spent a lot of the time talking about the book The Da Vinci Code. I know that it’s likely the majority of the reviews about this film mentioned it too but possibly not with Ebert’s passion.
The adaptation of The DaVinci Code was relased a couple of years after National Treasure and it’s clear that Ron Howard didn’t take Ebert’s tip to learn from National Treasure‘s mistakes. The main issue with this film is that the central mystery is so absurd that you have to suspend you disbelief so much. When you pick apart the clues, it doesn’t make sense that the founding fathers were able to pull it off. Or that anyone would actually be able to follow the clues. The fact that Benjamin Franklin (Cage) is able to do so with such ease is just a step too far into fantasy land. I mean, people have been searching for the treasure for hundreds of years yet Nick Cage has absolutely no trouble at all solving every single one? It’s stupid. Gates is the Mary Sue of conspiracy theory treasure movies.
But what baffles me the most about this film is that I don’t understand why the treasure was hidden? I don’t get why such an intricate system had to be put in place in the first place. It’s as if whoever was writing this film just decided that the main motivation was so this film could exist. That, of course, will have something to do with how quickly Disney jumped on the treasure hunting adventure bandwagon. The world had gone mad for Brown’s novel about the Holy Grail and Disney clearly wanted to cash in first. No care or attention was put into making the story plausible. Clearly hoping that chucking enough drama, gunfights, and romance at the plot would ensure nobody noticed how shit it was.
And to be fair, it’s still mildly entertaining. If you can ignore the clues and the logic at its heart, this is a stupid but fun film. Sean Bean hits the spot as the one-dimensional bad guy who can’t decide if he posh British or Northern. He also manages to pull off a cinematic feat by remaining alive throughout. Cage is clearly terrible casting for a history scholar and treasure hunter but he sure as hell puts everything into it. It’s not as if everyone is trying their hardest. The problem is, the story and the film is messy. It is reliant on plot but, unfortunately, the plot is terrible. None of the action sequences are good enough to distract and there certainly aren’t enough of them. There is far too much breathing time in this film where the audience will just sit there going “but this doesn’t make sense.” Or “if the treasure is there, how has nobody found it until now?”
There is a lot of be said about films that are so bad that they’re good. I used to think that National Treasure fit into that category. Watching it again now, I found the experience much more painful. It just keeps going on and on. With every passing minute, there is another layer added to the ludicrous plot and I just stopped caring. This is a film that’s stuck between genres. It wants to be a grown-up mystery like The Da Vinci Code thinks it is but it’s also just a Disney children’s adventure. As such, it just falls apart. It’s too complicated to be a modern day Goonies but it’s too immature to take on Dan Brown’s work.