After going off the grid back in 2007, the beloved National Treasure franchise has been revived by Disney with the Disney+ release of National Treasure: Edge of History. This new adventure follows Jess Valenzuela (Lisette Olivera) and her closest friends as they embark on a hunt to uncover a long-lost treasure.
The charm of the National Treasure franchise has always been driven by the chemistry of the leads and the urgency at which the treasure-hunting mystery unfolds. Unfortunately this spinoff series is lacking in both areas, with a new cast of characters that doesn’t gel as well and an extended narrative that’s way too drawn out. I can’t say I was ever invested in the cliche characters or the various uninteresting relationships that tie them together. It really is a case of “been there, done that” – the core group of friends lack originality and personality, and could have been pulled from any series with a young-adult focus. They make strange (and dumb) decisions throughout the series and it all feels a bit too cheesy and campy. The franchise has never been the epitome of serious storytelling, but there’s been a grounded nature to the roles that keeps them engaging.
The sublots that revolve around love triangles, scorned relationships and tense friendships do nothing more than drag down the pacing and elongate the series. Half the time that we should be hunting for treasure, we’re instead developing love stories and trying to create tension amongst the friends for some apparent “character development”. Only, there’s no real character development over the course of the season, meaning all of that time is essentially wasted. Rather than trying to create tension with the relationships, they should have been creating tension with the whole treasure mystery.
That being said, the scenes that are genuinely focused entirely on uncovering clues and solving riddles are fun. There’s a few good sequences spread throughout that weave in some fun 90’s adventure elements – analysing ancient documents and uncovering artefacts hidden in plain sight. Despite a strong presence in episode one, the issue is that these moments are too few and far between. More often than not, the treasure hunt takes a backseat in favour of episode-long cat-and-mouse set-pieces that barely further the story. The final two episodes ramp up the puzzle-solving elements, but it’s too little too late. I wanted to really enjoy the way the finale unfolds, but the journey to get there had taken so long that I didn’t really care anymore. If anything, this should have been six episodes at most, or even just another movie.
I can’t even say the performances do much to save the series since they’re not all that great anyway. Look, the cliche nature of the characters doesn’t leave the actors much room to move, but I couldn’t buy into the cheesy dialogue with some of the lacklustre delivery. Both Catherine Zeta-Jones (Billie) and Lisette Olivera put in the best performances of the series – they’re not amazing, but they’re strong enough. Scenes in which the two of them are going back and forth are by far the most engaging, unfortunately that doesn’t happen all to much. Whether it’s Antonio Cipriano (Oren), Zuri Reed (Tasha) or Jordan Rodrigues (Ethan), none of them are able to bring much to the series in the way of fun, comedy or drama.
Most of all I actually feel bad for Jake Austin Walker (Liam). I didn’t have any issues with his performance, it’s just the use of his character that is atrocious. Introduced as a love interest, his role seems clear enough, that is until the writers use the fact that the character plays guitar to inject multiple scenes where he breaks out into a full song for no apparent reason. Every time this happens it sucks all the life out of the show and adds nothing to the story. On top of this, it’s clear the writers had no idea what to do with the character beyond the halfway point so they have him just lingering in the background with barely a purpose.
In the end, National Treasure: Edge of History does have some minor redeeming qualities. Towards the beginning and at the end there’s chunks of the narrative focused solely on the puzzle-solving and treasure-hunting elements. These moments display the fun potential of the series… potential that’s wasted in favour of cliche characters, uninteresting relationships and a slow pace that drags the whole series down with it. As it constantly tries to one-up itself with the dramatic tension, it leads to sequences and scenarios that are unrealistic and make the series feel almost like a parody. Fans of National Treasure may get some enjoyment out of seeing the franchise return, but you’re better off waiting for a potential third movie.