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X Doesn’t Quite Mark the Spot

Jan 9, 2023


Of all the heist films ever created, National Treasure has perhaps the wildest premise of them all — even compared to Ocean’s 8’s plot of stealing jewels out from under the nose of Anna Wintour and the Met. Combining history with conspiracy and one of the greatest treasure hunts ever put to film, the 2004 film (and its 2007 sequel) made American history cool for kids again, and easily became a staple in star Nicolas Cage’s filmography, especially for Gen Z audiences who inevitably ended up owning a paper copy of the Declaration of Independence at some point in their childhoods.

Now, Disney+ is trying its hand at unraveling what we think we know about American history once again — this time, expanding its eye to all of North America with National Treasure: Edge of History. Shifting the focus away from the founding fathers and onto the larger issue of colonialism and Indigenous history, the new series switches Ben Gates out for Jess Valenzuela (Lisette Olivera), a young Mexican woman living in Baton Rouge who finds out that her dead (and deadbeat, according to her mother) father is connected to a grand and missing treasure. If only the series were as grand as the treasure it builds its story around. But alas.
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Image via Disney+

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From the get-go, it’s difficult to root yourself into the story of Jess and her friends — a group of plucky twenty-somethings all living in an apartment they definitely couldn’t afford in the real world. The pace is slow and does little to endear us to anyone, even Jess, and the charm that made National Treasure endlessly quotable (at least to me) is lost when a number of other characters and subplots are piled on top of the kids who are already struggling to bear the weight of leading the show. (Like, do we really need another sympathetic FBI agent this time around?)

Despite some entertaining performances from a handful of side characters (notably Antonio Cipriano as Oren), there’s a lack of cohesion between the young stars, whose romantic subplots and Gen Z cultural references read like much older writers googling “how do kids talk” and chucking the results into Final Draft. (For context: I was born in 1998, only two years before our lead character, and never once have I used the phrase “don’t cancel me” unironically.) We don’t get to live with them — even Jess — long enough to really start to love them, and all the extraneous B-plots make it tough to keep everyone straight, even Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is as unconvincing as a black market antiquities dealer as she was as the matriarch of the Addams Family in Wednesday.

Image via Disney+

In a year of many, many legacy sequels, Edge of History feels more like the abundance of direct-to-video sequels Disney produced in the ‘90s and early 2000s than a proper attempt at honoring either the original films or American history — which is shocking, considering that it’s backed not only by Jerry Bruckheimer, whose other legacy sequel is the most successful and well-reviewed film of the year, but by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, the writers behind the National Treasure films themselves. Connections to said movies are red strings on a conspiracy board at best, mostly tied together by cameos from stars Harvey Keitel and Justin Bartha, and there’s a hollowness that’s impossible to overlook, perhaps because of the nature of the show’s “national treasure” itself.

Having exhausted all connections to American history — and the Freemasons, the Knight’s Templar, and any other bizarre thing that’s come out of the States since its inception — Edge of History has now moved into Mesoamerican culture, conjuring up a treasure lost to time after Hernán Cortés invaded what is now Latin America. Hidden away by the Indigenous women of the tribes the conquistadors pillaged, the riches’ location is protected by three stone boxes (that look an awful lot like Minecraft blocks with symbols pasted on), which together form a map to the treasure’s location, and have been hidden away for hundreds of years, protected by a society that Jess’s dead father was somehow connected to.

Image via Disney+

And yet somehow — at least in the show’s first four episodes — at no point is it considered that clues to the boxes might be hidden in places culturally significant to Mesoamerica, but rather makes an attempt to weave the hunt into pieces of American history that went unused in the original films. Because the treasure’s backstory lacks the iconography of the founding fathers — the Declaration of Independence, the Old North Church, etc. — random pieces of Americana are pulled in under the guise of centering the stories of the Indigenous population of North America. I mean, while it’s a blast and a half, I really want to see the six degrees of separation game someone had to play to get from the Aztec Empire to Elvis Presley. Just saying.

This new adventure is an odd mishmash of the National Treasure franchise and something like the Indiana Jones films, as though the creators felt the need to keep up with films like Uncharted and Dial of Destiny in terms of the show’s scope. The urgency of the films is lost both in the serialized television format and its lack of endearing characters. Having only seen the first half of a ten-episode series, it’s difficult to say whether Edge of History will be able to redeem itself by the end of its run in February with its sprawling attempts to expand the franchise’s mythos.

Image via Disney+

All that said — the show has its heart in the right place. There’s a zaniness to it that reflects the kind of chaos present in not just the original National Treasure, but all of Nicolas Cage’s films, and if you love treasure hunts, riddles, and puzzles, the show builds itself around the solving of them, even if the answers turn out to be a bit goofy. It’s Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? levels of insane, even if Olivera or Zeta-Jones aren’t quite as intriguing as the gal in the big red hat.

Maybe I’m operating under the delusion that the original films were much better simply because they came out when I was six, therefore making my nostalgia impervious to critical thought. I’ve been guilty of it before, and certainly will again, so maybe in some part of the world, there’s a six-year-old girl who will fall in love with history the way I did while watching Ben Gates steal the Declaration of Independence, who will voraciously devour biographies and for-kids history books because of a couple of puzzle boxes and a girl with a determination to open them. And you know what? Good for her.

Rating: C+

The first two episodes of National Treasure: Edge of History premiere on Disney+ on December 14, with new episodes premiering on Wednesdays.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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