If I may be able to conjure up conspiracy theories of my own, then I will attempt to hypothesis how National Treasure came about to debut on the big screen, based on opportunities which presented itself at the right time. First, the popularity of Dan Brown's controversial The Da Vinci Code, which was made into a movie of its own, but took a tad too long in doing so. Topping the bestseller charts around the world, it made Hollywood execs sit up and realize that wild goose chases and solving riddles and clues do make an interesting, workable formula. Coupled by the fact that the Indiana Jones trilogy (at the time) probably will not have another sequel see the light of day, then the onus is on crafting a tale based on controversies, with Indy Jones tendencies, and chances are a new winner will be born.
Hence, National Treasure in the year end of 2004, which made a decent dent in the box office, starring Nicolas Cage as an Indy like clone Benjamin Gates, embroiled in a mystery of the Templar's treasure, with sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) as the tech wizard necessary to assist him, while at the same time romancing Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), who joins his band of treasure seekers against her wishes. The Indy references don't just stop here, they extend to having a Henry Jones resemblance in Jon Voight as dad Patrick Gates. If you were to deck Cage in a fedora, whip and gun, the references will be just too blatant.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The important question is, is the sequel Book of Secrets as good as, or can be accredited with the rare accolade of being better than the original? Well, in all honesty it's still an entertaining ride, as this time we go around the world (OK, so perhaps just Paris and London), versus the original story being US-centric. However, like the first installment, the material, clues and riddles are still quite US history heavy, so if you're well versed with certain characters (brought to life early in the movie) or events (thanks to paying attention during history lessons), then yes, Book of Secrets will give you an additional boost in being able to identify with it. Otherwise, don't fret, as the casual movie goer with popcorn in hand will definitely not feel lost.
The narrative and plot still feel a little staged and rigged for convenience (and run time of course), as one event will inevitably lead to the next and to the inevitable ending (like how CSI solves crime within 45 minutes sans ads), but they're still a lot of fun watching how the characters go through the motion in believing that they're onto something really big. While the first had a lot of puzzles to solve, which kept some of us guessing and playing along as well, this time round the number of riddles have been reduced significantly, and signs of Mission: Impossible creeping in as our band of treasure hunters seek to perform the impossible, pertaining to levels of security guarding their mark.
In an excuse to make the sequel, we have Ben and Patrick Gates reuniting to clear the good name of their ancestor, who's recently accused of being a co-conspirator, or even mastermind, behind the assassination of US President Abramham Lincoln. And of course, help comes in the form of Abigail, who's now estranged from Ben, trusty tech sidekick with the complementary witty lines Riley (and his red Ferarri), and now joined by Ben's mom Emily Appleton, played by Helen Mirren, who's in the movie to contrast her relationship with Patrick to that between Ben and Abigail.
However, we're not really interested in whimsical attempts to add depth to characters, are we? Sure they have their issues with one another, and with Ed Harris' Mitch Wilkinson being the token and very bland bad guy wanting to make his mark on history, the focus more often than not is to shift to the next big stunt / chase sequence. Like the first movie, one of the highlights touted in the trailer involves the art of balancing, which unfortunately, was already done in the first movie. Don't you just hate repeated stunts? And toward the end, I can't help but to compare it to Jackie Chan's The Myth, which in itself was somewhat of a treasure-hunter movie, involving the elixir of life (We're still stuck with gold here though).
And add to that Harvey Keitel's FBI agent Sadusky, the office of the most powerful man in the world, and teases from the Book of Secrets, we've got ourselves a handful being squeezed within 2 hours. Not to forget Nicolas Cage's absolutely horrendous haircut, the final verdict is that it's a fairly decent year end blockbuster which primed itself for yet another sequel, courtesy of page 47 of the titular book, if the box office numbers prove favourable.