National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007)

Rated: PG for some violence and action.
Length: 124 minutes
Grade: CCCC=C
Budget: $130 million
Box Office: $457 million ($220 US, $237 Intl.)

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub, who previously made National Treasure, Instinct, Phenomenon, While You Were Sleeping, Cool Runnings, and the outstanding Disney film The Kid.
Written by: Marianne and Cormac Wibberley, who wrote Shaggy Dog, National Treasure, Bad Boys 2, Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle, I Spy, and 6th Day.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel, and Bruce Greenwood.

When the Gates family reputation is impugned by a page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth, the family of historian/conspiracy theorist/adventurers go on a crazy adventure to clear their name by showing that their ancestor was actually protecting the union from the confederacy discovering a massive gold repository.

Entertainment Value: C
For fun, I give it a B. For plausibility, I give it a D-. For being possible to follow what’s going on, a D+. This movie is even more hare-brained than the first one, but the thing that always kept it from being very good was that it didn’t seem to care whether I understood what was happening or not. In fact, I think this was a deliberate effort to keep us so engrossed in the action that we don’t ask too many questions about why things are happening as they are. And then after I saw the new Indiana Jones movie, I was even less impressed by the comparison.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence C, Language A, Illegality D
The main issue here is the violence, which includes car chase scenes, shootings, a murder of a man in front of his son, and, most disturbingly, a drowning. But I also grade it down for illegality because the entire plot is about a main character doing seriously illegal things such as breaking into the Library of Congress, kidnapping the President, and evading the police. You know, your average hero-stuff. PG is probably correct.

Significant Content: C
On the good side, history matters and is cool to study. Intelligence, cleverness, and wit are virtues. Family is very important, including reputation for what was done in the past. And loyalty is a good thing. On the bad side, the world is full of secret conspiracies that go as high as the Presidency, and it’s okay to break the law as long as you’re right.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
And I feel I’m being generous with that. I love a good action movie, and I’m willing to cut them a lot of slack as long as it ties up in the end, but this didn’t. Endless questions surround the plot. Why was the name on that diary page? If they knew about the city of gold before, why not use it? Were the President’s aware enough to create the book, but not enough to uncover the city? And, most importantly, how likely is it that by sheer coincidence two major archaeology adventure movies come out within six months of each other where the central plot is about a lost city of gold? Answer: zero. Explanation: somebody stole something, and I have a hard time imagining it was Spielberg, especially since the latest scripting for that portion of Indy began in 2002, whereas the authorization for a sequel to National Treasure didn’t happen until after the first movie, in 2005. Shame on you, script thieves. Shame on you.

Discussion Questions:
~Would you call Ben Gates a vigilante? Why so or why not? Consider some of his illegal actions. Were they justified? What if they had turned out badly? Do you like the idea of people, even supposedly good guys, being so cavalier about breaking laws?
~How important is your ancestry to you? Would it bother you to know that you were descended from someone involved in violence or illegality such as an assassination plot? How far back would it matter to you? How important is it to people to be descended from historically notable people? Is this compatible with the Christian idea that we get our identity from Christ?
~What motivates Wilkinson to do what he does? Compare his motives with those of the Gates family. Are their methods significantly different? Have you ever felt ashamed of your family or yourself? Did this tempt you to do something dangerous or wrong to make up for it? How is this related to pride?
~Is it useful to want history to remember us favorably? Does this bias us in favor of certain endeavors rather than others? Should a Christian be concerned about this?
~Do you believe in the existence of conspiracies? Do you think it’s healthy for people to believe in them?
~Does this movie have educational value about history? Does this movie succeed at making history seem important and exciting?
~Which elements of this film seem the most implausible to you? Do any seem realistic?

Overall Grade: C
I thought it was fine until I watched Indy 4. Now, I’m frowning.

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