National Treasure: Edge Of History review: The Disney+ series puts a fun spin on the franchise
First, they stole the Declaration of Independence. Then they kidnapped the President of the United States. Now National tax franchise is attempting another near-impossible feat: making a good older TV show.
enter National Treasure: Edge of History. The Disney+ sequel series continues the story of National tax franchise with a new cast of leading characters. Created by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, the screenwriters of the first two films, Edge of History exists solely because of the love people have for the original films. They were absolute classics for kids growing up in the early 2000s. Their popularity grew as we entered the internet age, and “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence” became a commonly shared meme. Bonkers plots, great American conspiracies and a fantastic, insane Nick Cage performance wrap it all up.
The National tax films were some of the last in a dying genre: the kid-friendly adventure film. The films were silly and mixed historical facts with elaborate conspiracy fiction. They somehow made the founders seem cool long before Hamilton come along (everyone is more incredible when they belong to a secret society). But the films were also lightning in a bottle. Could a new series, without the beloved characters of the original, recreate that magic?
It’s hard to create a new main character, especially when following Nicolas Cage. But Lisette Olivera is a golden find. She stars as Jess Valenzuela, an aspiring cryptographer and devoted puzzle solver. The child of a treasure hunter father and Latin American historian mother, Jess is caught up in a hunt for lost Aztec treasure. Olivera’s charisma makes Jess an endlessly watchable character. As a DACA recipient, Jess’s relationship with immigrant America offers a different angle on how someone comes to learn American history and culture. It’s the kind of update that justifies the show’s existence, offering a new take with an excellent rising star to lead her show.
A few characters from the original films appear in Edge of History. Harvey Keitel is in the first episode and his character is crucial to the plot of the series. He doesn’t get much to do, but it’s admirable to watch him. However, Justin Bartha’s return as Riley Poole is the best (and rightly most anticipated) inclusion. An authentic relic of the “quirky side character” era of film, he’s a sight for sore eyes and someone I’ve really missed seeing. Sure, they also make him a podcaster, but he’s there and it’s excellent!
Yet National tax is only about one thing: elaborate missions with insane puzzles. The mystery of Edge of History is a lost golden treasure hidden by a secret society of women to protect it from the conquistadors and other invaders. Jess and her friends want to find the treasure to prove her parents were right about its existence. But they’re up against billionaire Billie Pearce (Catherine Zeta-Jones), one of the only characters who understands how goofy a show like this should be. The treasure’s conceit is a solid excuse to explore more of American history beyond the colonial era. Jess’s motivations make sense, all the elements of a good hunt are there, and they have a sinister antagonist. It’ll be fun, won’t it?
Somehow Edge of History lose track of the best with National tax. The lack of actual puzzle solving and treasure hunting in the show is shocking. The movies had everyone trotting across America for cryptic riddles, but Edge of History characters are often limited to twiddling their thumbs and developing boring romantic subplots. The show’s desire to reveal real forgotten parts of the story has the consequence of erasing much of the fun nonsense that made the original films so beloved. Edge of History often feeling too embarrassed to embrace being ridiculous.
That brings us to Edge of Historyits biggest problem: it shouldn’t have been a TV show. Edge of History has some of the greatest “this could have been a movie” energy of any show released this year. There is not enough material to fill each hour. Scenes meander to a flat ending, characters repeat themselves over and over, and there aren’t enough puzzles for anyone to solve. It feels like it’s just a TV show because TV shows are hot right now. A tight Edge of History the movie could have been a fun Disney+ offering. Instead, it’s a TV show unsure of what it’s meant to hunt. Is it supposed to build something original? Create an opening for a new part of the franchise. Just fill out Disney+’s catalog with a still-beloved IP?
A fun treasure hunt show starring Olivera could be the goofy breath of fresh air TV desperately needs. I gave this show the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to get on board, but so far I’m not hooked. I hope it improves as the series progresses.
National Treasure: Edge of History premieres Wednesday, December 14 on Disney+