National Treasure: Edge of History review – the mindless days of the 90s are back!

Freemasons, albino monk assassins, Harvey Keitel … this youth-focused spin-off of Jerry Bruckheimer’s adventure movie franchise is loads of daft fun

Do you miss noise and bombast? Do you miss goodhearted, mindless entertainment? Do you miss the 80s? The 90s? Well, take heart, my friends, because they’re all back, courtesy of the new Disney+ series National Treasure: Edge of History, executive produced by the biggest, swingingest 90s dick of them all, Jerry Bruckheimer.

National Treasure: Edge of History wants you to know that you are here to have fun and that fun you shall have from the off. We open in 2001 with a white-haired Harvey Keitel expositioning into a tape recorder. It saves such a lot of time and effort if you just tell people, you know?

So. “Remember the treasure I told you about?” he says, marvellously, over scenes of citadels being stormed and set ablaze. “From Emperor Montezuma’s palace sought by the conquistadors? After all these years, many started to believe these treasures were a fairytale, a myth. After all, Cortés and his army decimated the Aztec empire when they invaded Mexico in 1519. I made Bad Lieutenant, you know.”

He also made the two National Treasure films (starring Nicolas Cage as the dauntless hunter), which is why he’s here in the TV rehash using a young and more diverse cast for a series precision-tooled for children aged between nine and a half and 14 and five-eighths. Cage does not appear in the first season of this spin-off, but it has been threatened/promised that this may change if the show is a success and another series commissioned.

There is genuine fun to be had for both the envisaged juvenile demographic AND its knackered parents as the tale of the people hunting these lost treasures (hidden by a network of indigenous women, who secreted clues to its location in relics clandestinely given to the Incans, Mayans and Aztecs, now as lost as their civilisations) plays out in 45-minute chunks full of old-fashioned derring-do in a modern guise.

Like the films, it’s an Indiana Jones meets The Mummy (which I suppose was Indiana Jones meets … a mummy – never mind) meets The Da Vinci Code affair that does nobody any harm whatsoever. If you don’t like the quiet puzzle-y bits, another noisy bit will be along ever so soon, and vice versa. Bruckheimer was an algorithm before Zuckerberg was a twinkle in his robot father’s eye, or Amazon a glint in Bezos’s own, and he knows exactly what he is doing.

Our hero is young DREAMer Jess (Lisette Olivera), a puzzle-loving receptionist at a storage warehouse who spends her spare time breaking out of escape rooms and dreaming of a job as professor of symbology – sorry, no – of a job in the FBI’s cryptoanalysis division if and when her papers come through under President Obama’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. She has three boon companions – Tasha (Zuri Reed), who is on-off going out with Oren (Antonio Cipriano), and Ethan (Jordan Rodrigues, with whom she has unresolved sexual tension because they are all in their early 20s and sexual tension, resolved or unresolved, is all there is in life).

Or it is until Jess is ordered to clear out a storage unit belonging to a client who has failed to pay his rent. Jess – cryptogenius that she is – realises that the client’s name, Iam Phantasm, is fake. I presume another receptionist was on duty when the client signed up. It is Latin, she tells her boss, for “I am a ghost”. He reels, he does. Reels.

Harvey Keitel handing envelope to Lisette Olivera.
Chock-full of clues … Lisette Olivera and Harvey Keitel. Photograph: Brian Roedel/Disney

The ghost is Harvey Keitel who – as anyone who has seen the films will know – is retired FBI agent and Freemason (oh, yeah, the Masons are involved as well. And an albino monk assassin) Peter Sadusky. He dies, possibly after seeing the script for the second episode, but not before giving her a letter and family photo for his estranged grandson Liam (Jake Austin Walker). They, would you believe, are chock-full of clues decipherable only to a young DREAMer working in a storage warehouse but who dreams of a job in the FBI’s cryptoanalysis division, and they lead her, with the help of the amulet her father left her – so if you’re playing derring-do bingo please tick that one off your board – straight to one of the lost IncaMaztec relics!

But! Sadusky was being watched by mysterious, malevolent ice maiden Billie Pearce (Catherine Zeta-Jones in a blond wig that should have got separate billing) and now Jess is on her radar too! Dum-dum-daaah!

Anyway, you get it. Amulets, Masons, relics, lost civilisations, spunky heroine, boon companions, Big Bad in the background, loads of fun. Watch and have some, or don’t and make your own. I’d say you’ll probably be fine either way.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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