A few years back a friend
handed me a best-seller science fiction/horror book and said it was
kinda fun. I started reading, and about twenty pages in I thought, This
is pretty interesting. About fifty pages in I thought, This is
fascinating! About a hundred pages in I thought, This is TREMENDOUS!
And about a hundred and two pages in I thought, This is PREPOSTEROUS!
The cool thing about Jerry Bruckheimer's “National
Treasure” movies is that they don't bother trying to hook you with
plausible expositions or explanations – they go directly for the
preposterous and keep it coming. This absolves you, as a movie-goer,
from any obligation to try to make sense out of the plot, and invites
you to sit back and have a big time.
If you saw the first movie in 2003 you'll remember
that the first preposterous thing you were asked to believe was that
Nicholas Cage was a dashing swashbuckler hero, which is something like
the White Queen believing six impossible things before breakfast. Cage
plays Benjamin Franklin Gates (a combination of names that Americans
find irresistible), who is a, uhh, Researcher (read treasure hunter)
who steals the Declaration of Independence because it contains a clue
to an immense treasure that was brought to America by the Freemasons,
who are an offshoot of the Knights Templar, which is about all I can
remember except that the treasure is at the bottom of a yawning pit
that lies, cleverly hidden, beneath Trinity Church in Manhattan.
I decided early on that you should enjoy the movie as a farce when
there was a plot point involving a collection of George Washington's
campaign buttons, and Washington was running against whom,
exactly? If you admit that the movie is not designed to make sense, you
can have a whole lot of fun.
The new movie, on those same terms, finds Ben Gates
on the trail of the Seven Cities of Cibola, except there's only one of
them, and it's underneath the mountain that Mount Rushmore is carved
into. Ben has to find it to prove that one of his ancestors didn't
really conspire to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and he has to break
into Buckingham Palace and the White House, and kidnap the President of
the United States, to find the clues to do it. See what I mean?
Ben is once again aided by sidekick Riley (Justin
Bartha), who can disable the Queen of England's entire security system
from a men's room stall, and also gets most of the funny lines. Diane
Kruger is back as Ben's estranged wife, which lets you know some time
has gone by, because they barely knew each other in the first movie.
John Voight returns as Ben's father, and Harvey Keitel as the
wryly bemused FBI agent. Bumping the whole project into the realm of
luxury casting is Helen Mirren as Ben's mother, and why should we be
surprised that one of the world's great actresses would jump at the
chance to travel to South Dakota and have a great time and make a few
There are also the usual bad guys, led by Ed Harris
as a southern gentleman who is certainly no gentleman, and possibly no
southerner, if you listen to his accent come and go. Most of the
tension is provided by the really cool booby traps that protect the
buried City of Gold, and this leads us to a digression into cultural
If you don't know the name Carl Barks, you really
ought to. Barks was a Disney artist who created the Uncle Scrooge comic
books of the 50s and 60s, some of the greatest comic art of all time.
Scrooge McDuck, the world's richest waterfowl, aided by his nephews
Donald and Huey, Dewey and Louie, tracked down mythical treasures in
exotic lands around the globe, including King Solomon's Mines, The
Golden Fleece, and the Philosopher's Stone. (No nonsense with Barks
about renaming it “The Sorcerer's Stone.”)
All the treasures that Uncle Scrooge goes after are
protected by either mythological creatures or complex booby traps, and
the booby traps in two adventures, the search for the Inca emperor's
hidden gold mine, and the hunt for the Seven Cities of Cibola (all
seven, you'll notice) are riddled with devices that show up in this
But the director who has plagiarized the most from
Uncle Scrooge is Steven Spielberg, whose Indiana Jones movies are
peppered with fancy takes on Barks Booby Traps, from the Roaring Skull
Cracker to the Sickle of the Short Haircut. Actually, Spielberg and
Lucas admit that Uncle Scrooge was their inspiration, so I guess it's
not technically plagiarism, just a canny compulsion to steal from the
And if, as I have, you've squirreled away your Uncle
Scrooge collection, do the world a favor and pass it on to a kid with
imagination and a taste for high adventure; you might help to create a
new J. K. Rowling, or even a new Carl Barks.