“You notice things no one else would notice” is a compliment given more than once to Jess (Lisette Olivera), the heroine of National Treasure: Edge of History. That’s apparently what makes her the ideal spiritual successor to Ben Franklin Gates — the main character played in the franchise’s two previous big-screen entries by Nicolas Cage, who doesn’t appear here.
In practice, though, it feels more like the show’s way of insisting that Jess is more interesting than the script actually allows her to be, and its excuse for convincing the carelessness of the mysteries. Jess may have an eye for detail, but her Disney+ series has no patience for them—it’s less an intricately designed puzzle than a jumble of half-broken odds and ends.
National Treasure: Edge of History
The bottom line
Fatally lacking that Cage charisma.
The first National tax wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but its extravagant silliness had a certain charm – it’s a story that begins with Cage and his co-stars repeating the phrase “stealing the Declaration of Independence” over and over as if even they can’t quite believe what the script is leading them to to do, and only gets more cheerfully unlikely from there.
The plot of the new spinoff, from creators Marianne and Cormac Wibberley, seems to be in the same boisterous spirit as its predecessors. This time, the ancient wealth is hidden from the Spanish conquistadors by an underground network of Mayan, Inca and Aztec women, as explained by retired FBI agent Peter Sadusky (guest star Harvey Keitel, reprising his role from the films).
The quest to find the treasure falls to Jess, a brave 20-year-old with dreams of joining the FBI’s cryptanalysis division, when she happens upon a meeting with Sadusky in the premiere directed by Mira Nair. Before long, she discovers that the trove’s centuries-long history is tied to her own mysterious family background – and that she must take up the hunt for it herself if she is to protect it from the likes of Billie (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an antiques dealer who has her own deadly personal stake in the discovery.
If Edge of History (no, I have no idea what that title means either) try whatever it is, it brings a more modern, socially conscious sensibility to this 18 year old franchise. Jess’ status as a DACA recipient and her friend Tasha’s (Zuri Reed) innate distrust of law enforcement touch on real issues facing racial minorities in the United States. And the conspiracy this time is a sharp response to whitewashed colonialist narratives about the New World: Sadusky makes a point of rattling off the achievements of the Mayans, Incans and Aztecs in his exhibition-dump speech to Jess, and even Billie casually remarks that it was not the sword of Hernán Cortés that wiped out entire civilizations, but the introduction of smallpox.
But it would be too much to expect deep cultural analysis from a franchise that’s mostly about people solving ridiculous riddles after historical figures. In the first four 45-minute episodes sent to critics (of a 10-episode season), Edge of Historyhis engagement with these problems stops at mentioning them. The show’s attempts to capture Gen Z culture more broadly are similarly half-baked. Every time a character mentions TikTok dancing or waving around a Thor Funko Pop (gotta get in on that Disney synergy), it’s like, “How are you doing, other kids?” scene from 30 Rock.
Edge of HistoryIts most fatal flaw, however, is its total lack of charisma. It would surely be impossible to match Cage’s off-kilter energy from the movies. But Olivera’s Jess is simply too nice and normal to sell the kind of urgent obsession that might compel someone to risk everything in search of a possibly mythical treasure. And she is one of the show’s more compelling characters. Her friend Oren (Antonio Cipriano) seems to have been conceived as goofy comic relief but just manages to sell the tough part, while her friend-zoned bestie Ethan (Jordan Rodrigues) comes off as the kind of not-so-nice guy I thought we left years ago.
Zeta-Jones has some star power as Billie. Although she has little to do in most episodes beyond taunting beneath an icy blonde wig, the perfect taunt lifts lines like “Why don’t you all join me, grab your pom-poms and start cheering me on” . (A lot of Edge of Historyits dialogue sounds like it was written with no understanding that someone would have to say those words out loud; Jess’ take on Billie is “I didn’t expect someone who looks like they’re walking all over town Big little lies.”) Additionally, Justin Bartha’s guest appearance as Ben’s sidekick Riley in episode four injects a welcome shot of self-aware silliness, starting with a hysterically overwrought entrance.
But they can’t save a series that seems to have lost sight of why anyone might want more National tax to begin with. Edge of Treasure underlining important clues with cheesy glowing graphics and flashbacks to scenes we saw just minutes ago, as if anticipating an audience that’s only half-paying attention as they mindlessly scroll through TikTok — but hand-waving the processes of deductive reasoning and creative problem-solving that allow Jess to make these connections in the first place. Meanwhile, it finds so much time for appearances by Liam, Peter’s aspiring country star grandson, that one suspects the project’s true purpose was to soft launch actor Jake Austin Walker’s pivot to music.
Maybe someone will crack the code on how to expand National tax franchise one day; Riley’s cryptic comment that “Let’s just say there are 47 reasons to be interested” in what he and Ben have been up to is a clear nod to fans who have been clamoring for a third film. But Edge of History is not the solution. It’s just another intractable problem.