Review of National Treasure: Edge of History

My household just finished watching the finale of National Treasure: Edge of History, the Disney+ spinoff from the Nicholas Cage National Treasure movie and its sequel, and for some bizarre reason I went to look at its Rotten Tomatoes score: tomatometer 38%, audience 49% as of February 17. I guess my tastes don’t match those of critics or internet audiences, because I liked it a lot. It occurred to me that maybe too many people watched it who aren’t in its target audience.

So I decided to write a review based on Spider Robinson’s principle when reviewing for Galaxy in the 1970’s: the purpose of a review is to help you decide whether to read the story (or, watch the show). Here are some thoughts on who might like the show and who might not. Some (in my opinion very minor) spoilage, but just enough to help you decide.

The first issue is genre (and sub-genre), the kind of story it is. Edge of History is a treasure hunt, a subset of action-adventure involving solving puzzles and following alternate-history clues to track down a MacGuffin (a thing whose pursuit motivates the characters, in this case a treasure hidden by indigenous people at the time of the Spanish conquest), pursued by a Bad Guy who is after the same thing for nefarious purposes. Taking liberties with history (and deviation from facts in general) bothers some people more than the usual liberties fiction takes. The exceptional cleverness needed to solve the clues strikes some people as unrealistic. If you hated the original National Treasure movie, you’re not likely to appreciate the series.

The second issue is the characters. Jess Valenzuela and her buddies are an ensemble case (with Jess as the protagonist), and some people don’t like ensembles (preferring fewer people to keep track of and get to know). They are in their mid twenties; some people in a social media thread I read objected to young people being knowledgeable enough to solve the clues, comparing them unfavourably to Nicholas Cage’s middle-aged expert who had been hunting treasure all his life. I didn’t have any trouble with this; Jess’ abilities and knowledge are lampshaded as unusually good, and I find hacker Tasha’s information-gathering skills quite believable. The others each make their own lesser contributions to the search, and their interactions seemed in-character and believable, with just the right (moderate) amount of drama and disagreement.

The third issue is casting. For some people the absence of Nicholas Cage was a deal-breaker; maybe they don’t like spinoffs? A distressing number of comments I saw complained about “wokeness;” movies led by female or nonwhite characters often attract review-bombing. I found the cast to be delightfully diverse: The protagonist and primary antagonist are both female; Jess is Mexican, legally in the USA via DACA; Tasha is black; Ethan is nonwhite, played by an actor with Malaysian parents. Their different backgrounds contributed to their ability to solve the mystery.

A couple of minor issues relate to format (mini-series instead of movie). Investing 485 minutes instead of 131 (the original movie) makes some people more demanding. Movies generally have faster pacing and higher budgets than mini-series, so for some people a TV series is inherently less fun than a movie. There are also things people lump under “quality.” I found the pacing, cinematography, and production values all quite reasonable for a TV show, but clearly some people’s mileage varies.

So if genre, characters, casting, and format fit your tastes, you’ll probably enjoy the show.