Film Review – Now You See Me 2
Now You See Me 2
***Warning: The following contains spoilers for Now You See Me (2013)***
One of things I hate – and I mean really hate – about movies featuring magicians, con artists, or master thieves, is that the chosen profession of the characters automatically creates an easy out for any trouble they may run into. Whether they are trying to rob a bank, rescue someone, or uncover some kind of conspiracy, the very fact that they are tricksters by trade makes it convenient for writers to wiggle out of a jam by simply saying, “It was all part of the plan!” Even when characters appear to be surrounded by enemies, in the end they can just turn around and explain that everything happened the way they wanted it to. It’s a stupid narrative device that sucks the suspense out of a film.
Case in point: Now You See Me 2 (2016). We have a group of magicians – known as the “Horsemen” – who run around as Robin Hood-like heroes, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, all while showing off their flashy magic skills. I’ll admit to you: I was not a fan of Now You See Me. The character development was non-existent, the members of the Horsemen were unlikable smartasses, and the “magic” consisted of CGI nonsense. The sequel has pretty much the same stuff. If you liked the first film, chances are you’ll like this one also. If you didn’t like the first film…well…best to walk away now.
We pick up one year after the events of the first installment. The Horsemen, including Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Jack (Dave Franco), and newcomer Lula (Lizzy Caplan, replacing Isla Fisher) have been laying low to avoid authorities. Their leader Dylan (Mark Ruffalo), continues to keep tabs on the FBI, trying to keep them off their tails. But the lure of the spotlight and the adulation of the public call them back to the surface. However, during a surprise performance the Horsemen get exposed by a mysterious organization. Now vulnerable to the authorities and the criminals, the Horsemen must once again go on the run to avoid capture.
What I described is just a slice of the convoluted mess that makes up Now You See Me 2. Screenwriter Ed Solomon stuffs the plot with an array of side stories and loose threads. Here are just a few of them:
- – Atlas communicates with a magic society known as The Eye, whose purpose is unclear.
- – Dylan deals with an unresolved issue involving his father, who – unsurprisingly – had ties to magic.
- – Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman), who debunks magic’s biggest tricks, remains in jail determined to get revenge on Dylan and the Horsemen.
- – Lula is established as a “Horsemen Superfan,” geeking out to all of their routines. How she ends up being part of the team is dubious at best. And oh yeah, she develops a lukewarm romance with Jack.
- – Daniel Radcliffe shows up as Walter Mabry, a business tycoon who hires the Horsemen to pull off a heist under questionable circumstances.
- – The FBI, lead by director Natalie Austin (Sanaa Lathan) remain steadfast in their hunt for the Horsemen.
All occur nearly simultaneously. The production took a “bigger is better” approach with the sequel, throwing anything against the wall and seeing if it would stick. None of it makes sense or gels together cohesively, but who cares right? The narrative has the ultimate get out of jail card – the “We’re magicians, it’s was supposed to happen this way” excuse. Pardon me as I roll my eyes.
Jon M. Chu takes the director’s chair this go around. He does what he can with the material, spinning multiple plates while keeping the energy up for the most part. One of the better developments Chu and his team make is by turning the Horsemen into underdogs. In the first film, they were constantly one step ahead of everyone else. This time, for the first two acts they are in survival mode, doing what they can to persevere. Unfortunately, the third act requires them to pull off an elaborate scheme that defies all logic, and that’s where Chu starts to lose momentum.
The worst thing a movie featuring magic tricks can do is use CGI as a crutch. It spoils the surprise of the trick – we’re not amazed if we know that computers helped pull it off. During a scene where the Horsemen pass a playing card between each other without being detected by security guards, the sequence is never believable because it’s executed falsely. The slow motion and CGI effects wipe away the reality. An even worse example is when Atlas uses magic to make raindrops freeze in place. Really? That’s not an illusion, that’s a super power.
Now You See Me 2 is crafted for no other reason than monetary gain. It’s not that funny or entertaining. The magic isn’t that magical. The majority of it takes place in China, an obvious (and shameless) attempt to bank on the overseas market. How ironic: a story about giving back to the masses is featured in a movie tailored made to take their money away from them.