Edge of History lacks a lot of the flair and excitement that the Nicolas Cage movies had in spades, and struggles to justify its own existence beyond giving an old IP some Gen Z attitude.
This review of National Treasure: Edge of History season 1 contains some minor spoilers for the first two episodes.
Oh, National Treasure. Everyone remembers it. And, as bulletproof as my nostalgia for mid-2000s action-adventure filmmaking tends to be, I’m pretty sure most people remember it fondly. Combining a typically demented Nic Cage performance with Jerry Bruckheimer’s bombast and a conspiracy deeply rooted in American history, the 2004 film and its 2007 sequel are classics. I’m surprised it took Disney this long to revive the IP.
After two episodes of National Treasure: Edge of History, a new ten-episode Disney+ series that is part sequel and part reboot, I kind of wish they didn’t. Not that this series is strictly bad, per se, but it has a lot of elements that are difficult to take to, including a gang of plucky twenty-somethings, a whiny Gen Z sensibility, a worryingly unhurried pace, and a treasure hunt that, for all its important themes of colonialism and indigenous Mesoamerican history, doesn’t seem all that interesting.
And I like some of the characters individually. Protagonist Jess Valenzuela (Lisette Olivera) is a fun lead, an undocumented Mexican woman living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whose mother has recently passed away and whose father disappeared when she was a baby, which thanks to a flashback prologue we know is because he double-crossed a man named Salazar while trying to protect the treasures of Montezuma’s palaces, which were hidden from Hernán Cortés during his pillaging of Latin America (more on this in a minute.) Jess seems capable of fronting a series, but the show itself doesn’t seem especially interested in spending much time with her, instead reiterating her facility for puzzles by having her constantly explain that her dream job is in the FBI’s Cryptanalysis department and having other characters constantly note that she sees things that other people don’t. When she thinks, the visual effects make a point of showing us her unique thought processes in real-time, but her ability to put together ancient clues on her first try doesn’t make her seem like a puzzle-solving extraordinaire, but instead like someone who has had a peek at the script.
Jess has friends like Tasha (Zuri Reed), an – all together now! – social media influencer, and Oren (Antonio Cipriano), a kind of barely-conscious sneakerhead. They all have underdeveloped romances and B-plots, but we meet them all in an escape room and are expected to intuit all of their dynamics on fast-forward. It’s difficult to care. Even Billie (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a black market antiquities dealer villain with a couple of goons posing as FBI agents, jumps into the plot out of nowhere and doesn’t seem like she’s going to be characterized beyond being well-dressed and posh, which in this kind of show always means “evil”.
What’s most shocking about Edge of History, I think, is how little it feels like National Treasure. Sure, Harvey Keitel briefly shows up to set the plot in motion, but if he didn’t, you’d never really know the show is supposed to exist in the same universe as the films. It lacks the same vibe and flair and sense of energetic enthusiasm, instead working through the motions of a treasure hunt that feels too derivative of all the similar media that has been released in the intervening years. You can tell there hasn’t been a great deal of thought put into the actual treasure itself, the map to which is divided between three puzzle boxes supposedly divided between the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs. Yet the action remains rooted in the U.S. all the same, despite not having the explicit connections to the Freemasons, the Founding Fathers, and the Declaration of Independence that justified the films being mostly Stateside.
And it’s all built on a lot of contrivances. Everything just so happens to be connected to Jess in a way that absolutely doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, and the ease with which she’s able to arrive at esoteric solutions to abstract puzzles doesn’t give the audience the pleasure of trying to solve them along with her. And I sincerely want that for the young audience this show is clearly targeting, who might see in Jess a new kind of treasure-hunting hero, one who perhaps looks a lot like them. Hopefully, as it continues, National Treasure: Edge of History will manage to expand its mythos while also giving Jess a mystery worth solving.
- National Treasure: Edge of History season 1, episode 3 release date
- National Treasure: Edge of History season 1, episode 3 recap
- Will there be a National Treasure: Edge of History Season 2?
2 thoughts on “National Treasure: Edge of History season 1 review – a Gen Z redo doesn’t unearth much treasure”
I guess everything new that they make today is baseless, adventure-less, imagination-less and must appeal to R generation (re-tard).
I absolutely love it! My husband and I have been watching it every night. I can’t believe anyone doesn’t like it.