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Remembering the 'National Treasure' movies and the Cage/Gates legacy
“I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence.”
When we hear the title National Treasure, two things immediately come to mind. The first thing is Nicholas Cage in all of his glory. The second thing is some spin on Cage saying that he is going to steal the Declaration of Independence.
That’s the 2004 movie (directed by Jon Turtletaub) all summed up, really. There’s more to it, but that’s all we ever needed to get us to watch it. What’s the story? Nicholas Cage is going to steal the Declaration of Independence. Why? There’s a map on it or something. What does the map lead to? Who gives a s***, it’s Nicholas Cage stealing a historical document. As the next generation of artifact thieves go on a mission in the new Disney+ series National Treasure: Edge of History, let's remember the films, which are founding documents of their own.
There’s more to the first National Treasure once you’ve already been hooked by the premise. Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, and he comes from a treasure-hunting family. He goes on an Indiana Jones/Lara Croft/Da Vinci Code/Uncharted quest. He needs to steal the Declaration of Independence in order to find a treasure before Sean Bean can get at it — but he also needs to steal it to prove to everyone that the legacy of his family is not a joke.
Is showing the world the truth about his family the real national treasure? Perhaps. Cage does a lot of heavy lifting here. He has to prove to the audience that the character of Benjamin Franklin Gates is not a joke. He has to prove that the premise of the movie is fun, but not a joke. He has to prove, once again, that he himself is not a joke.
He gets assistance from Harvey Keitel in the role of Agent Sadusky, who lends gravitas to the proceedings. Still, Cage has to prove it's all more than a silly trailer that features him delivering an unforgettable line about paper theft.
“I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence.”
If the movie has a legacy, it is that line. That line has a legacy because of Nicholas Cage. The line would not have spawned a billion memes if it was delivered by any other actor. It is without any irony at all that we state, in our opinion, that we believe Nicholas Cage to be a genius.
Is he hamming it up in this movie? Absolutely. Look at the name of the character he’s playing, you’ve got to throw some ham on there to make it work. Cage has a gift for (almost) always knowing exactly what movie he’s in, and adapting his skills accordingly. When he has to go ham like he does here, he can do it. When the movie needs him to be a more grounded comedic master, he does it, as proved by Raising Arizona. You need a devastating performance that will have you reeling? Watch the highly underrated Pig from last year. Adaptation needed twin Nicholas Cage brothers with no winks? Done. Vampire’s Kiss needed him to go well and truly off the deep end? Got you covered. Toss in Con Air, Face/Off, and this year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and you have an actor who refuses to be put in a category.
Such is Cage. The map to the fun of National Treasure is tattooed on his back, so we’re gonna steal Nicholas Cage. He continued the adventures in 2007’s National Treasure: Book of Secrets, where Gates had to fight John Wilkes Booth while riding a dinosaur. Not really, but Booth is involved in the movie. The exact story doesn’t matter much, not for audiences, and not for the movie itself. Cage-as-Gates is the reason to watch, and Keitel was back too. Dame Helen Mirren joined in, and if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for us.
A new generation, led by Lisette Olivera, is now picking up the mantle on Disney+. At the moment, Cage is nowhere to be seen, nor is the Gates family. You do get Catherine Zeta-Jones as, wait for it, Billie Pearce. Ah yes, another presidential name. Interesting. Where are we going with this?
Keitel returns as Sadusky, so there’s some connective tissue to the films. The character of Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is present as well for some added tissue. Youngsters going on some quests that have nothing to do with actual history is a good idea, and it's not only because we enjoy historical fiction. The National Treasure movies were never going to be successors to Indiana Jones, but they work very well as sugary treats for young audiences.
A new generation of treasure hunters may find their best audience with youngsters who have never seen the previous movies. The show doesn’t need to restore the Gates family name to be a fun watch, but if it ever wants to do so, then we can only see one way for them to do it.
The legacy of National Treasure is Nicholas Cage. If the series brings in Benjamin Franklin Gates, then that legacy will live on. It doesn’t have to do this, the target audience probably won’t care. That said, there’s surely someone, somewhere, to whom the return of Gates will be akin to Luke Skywalker showing up in The Mandalorian.
The return of Gates would mean the return of Cage, and seeing him on a Disney+ show would justify another three year subscription. It could be inevitable. Gates/Cage may return to National Treasure, and he'll secure multiple legacies once again. The legacy of the Gates family. The legacy of Nicholas Cage. The legacy of National Treasure itself.
If Cage shows up, rest assured... he’ll know exactly what to do.
New episodes of National Treasure: Edge of History on Disney+ on Wednesdays. The first two episodes are available right now.
Stream tons of great action and adventure movies, including the history-filled Night at the Museum, on Peacock right now.