*. People like to complain about the Marvelization of the movie business in the twenty-first century but what they may really mean is the Disneyfication. This doesn’t have anything to do with a preponderance of animated family fare but rather refers to franchise entertainment writ very, very large. Like the productions of Marvel (bought by Disney in 2009), and Star Wars (bought by Disney in 2012) and all Disney’s homegrown franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean et al. Basically buy or create intellectual property and then keep squeezing those oranges for all they’re worth.
*. Later, with the launch of their Disney+ streaming service, this became not just a business model but a necessity, with the step from franchises to serials turning out to be a small one in the case of properties like Marvel and Star Wars. How well it all works out in the end is anybody’s guess, but the early evidence seems to point to a certain level of exhaustion being reached. You can squeeze any orange dry.
*. A case in point is National Treasure. This was an unexpected hit in 2004, leading to an inevitable (if initially unplanned) sequel. But the idea hadn’t been original in the first place, and already by part two it feels exhausted. So much so that it struck me as one of the most slavish rehashings I can remember. They brought back the same writers and same director and assembled the same gang (even Harvey Keitel returns as the FBI agent chasing them) to go looking for another buried treasure by following a bunch of obscure clues.
*. There’s a meme, because memes are cool. Instead of “I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence” we have “I’m gonna kidnap the President of the United States.” And the final reveal of the city of gold looks like it was cut and paste from National Treasure, right down to those flaming runnels that function as a light switch. They really weren’t even trying.
*. The plot though is even sillier than the first movie. Roger Ebert spent most of his review cataloguing all of its absurdities before finally saying that “The person who attends National Treasure: Book of Secrets expecting logic and plausibility is on a fool’s mission. This is a Mouth Agape Movie, during which your mouth hangs open in astonishment at one preposterous event after another. This movie’s plot doesn’t play tennis without a net, but also without a ball and a racket. It spins in its own blowback. And, no, I don’t know what that means, but this is the kind of movie that makes you think of writing it.”
*. Ebert also flagged how the cast promised something more. Sean Bean is replaced by Ed Harris, which is no drop-off, but his character is some kind of vanilla villain who isn’t a villain at all in the end. Helen Mirren as Ben’s mom is along for the ride as well, but she’s unnecessary in terms of the plot and is just there for the happy ending. In my notes on Greenland I registered how stupid the Hollywood plot of divorced or separated couples being brought back together by having to go through some trial was. Well here we get not one but two such instances, with Ben’s mom and dad reconciling while Ben (Nicolas Cage) and Abigail (Diane Kruger) also begin by being on the outs only to reunite on the treasure quest.
*. This would still be OK if the movie were more thrilling just on the level of your usual amusement-park ride stuff. But it isn’t. I wasn’t interested for a minute in what was going on, and the goofy local charm of the first movie is left behind as they go full Tomb Raider.
*. So, like the Pirates of the Caribbean, which was in its own needlessly prolonged death spiral at the time, the franchise was just being squeezed dry. But it made a mountain of money, even more than the first movie, so a third film was immediately announced. That project would, however, be stuck for years in development hell, and as of this writing has yet to appear. Meanwhile, a series was announced for Disney+. Because this is the way the money’s made.