For 'National Treasure: Edge of History,' the Third Time Isn't The Charm

Almost two decades and a new medium after the start of the franchise, not enough of the storytelling has evolved to garner positive reactions from reviewers.
by Peter A. Berry — 

Justin Bartha and Lisette Olivera in 'National Treasure: Edge of History'


Say what you want about cynical plays on nostalgia, but there's a hidden charm in expanding legacy franchises that didn't get their critical due the first time around — "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." 

Empowered by new cultural contexts — and younger audiences — reboots, spin-offs, and sequels can represent a second chance for critically underappreciated properties from yesteryear. Unfortunately, though, Disney+'s National Treasure: Edge of History, a sequel to Nicolas Cage-starring blockbusters National Treasure (2004) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), didn't exactly make the most of the opportunity, according to critics, and the series earned a Metascore that's in the same range as the films (43, to the original film's 40 and the sequel's 48).

The OG National Treasure movies follow the exploits of Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage), a historian who moonlights as a treasure hunter with familial ties to a mythic fortune and national conspiracies. While they were a massive success at the box office, generally speaking,reviewers described the movies as low-brow action-adventure fare, even if they found some good in them. Almost two decades and a new medium later, not enough of the storytelling has evolved to garner positive reactions from reviewers. And although the original films were rated PG so the majority of the family could enjoy them, the YA bent of the sequel series leaves many critics unsatisfied.

Exploring themes of colonialism with YA storytelling, National Treasure: Edge of History chronicles the journey of Jess Valenzuela (Lisette Olivera), a DACA immigrant whose puzzle-solving prowess and ties to fabled relics put her on the path to adventure — and at odds with a nefarious billionaire. 

While the new TV series boasts a charismatic lead and an ostensibly inventive plot, some critics, such as The Daily Beast's Nick Schager, feel the series misses Cage, as well as the original films' charm, activity, and ingenuity while, the words of Schager, adding an "insufferable tween spin." 

Whereas National Treasure and its sequel were noted for thrilling, escalating action and the chemistry between its stars, RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico lambasted National Treasure: Edge of History for its "forgettable sidekicks." Jess' underwhelming adventure team is, as Tallerico notes, a result of thin characterization. In his eyes, that lack of development also inhibits Olivera, whom he deems a charismatic lead left without compelling enough material to make the most of her talent. 

Tallerico also critiques Edge of History's "bland and unengaging" mysteries, which he compares to a scavenger hunt that doesn't give you the reward of actually finding something. For Paste Magazine, Leila Jordan echoed a similar sentiment: "There just isn't enough material to fill each hour. Scenes meander to a flat end, characters repeat themselves over and over, and there just aren't enough puzzles for anyone to solve." Considering most critics have only seen four episodes and there is a lot of world-building to do at the start of a new series, there's a chance that some of these issues could dissipate. But it's not exactly a promising start.

"Promising" may be a relative term when it comes to films that were box office hits, but critically underwhelming.

With the lowest Metascore of the trio of titles, National Treasure was criticized by The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle for having "no ambition, little sense and false sentiment." (Though, he did say the film has "velocity, high spirits and scale.") And writing for The Washington Post, Stephen Hunter compared the film to comfort food; ie, a meal that tastes great going down, but isn't necessarily healthy. 

With the highest Metascore of the three, Book of Secrets was still called out for by-the-numbers movie tropes, but received credit for its campy charm and eventful plot. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman said this one had more "spunk and drive" than the first film in the series, praising its Indiana Jones-esque set pieces and spurts of humor. Meanwhile, The A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin said Book of Secrets was "fun, goofy, and fleet enough to merit a third go-round." 

Fifteen years later, that third go-round is here, and the results are just as mixed as before. Without the chance for widespread box office success, that has to be a little disappointing for Disney.