4 out of 10
Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas
Directed by Jon Chu
Now You See Me 2 Review:
If you liked Now You See Me, you’ll enjoy this sequel since it is more of the same. But even though it has an incredible cast, the unrealistic events, convoluted plot, and smug magicians make this one a tough one to enjoy for anyone overthinking this popcorn flick.
After the events of the 2013 film Now You See Me, the Four Horsemen have gone into hiding. The Eye, a secret group of magicians who use their talents for social activism, has had them lay low until their next grand performance. However, Daniel Atlas is getting restless. He’s tired of waiting for their next order and he feels like he can lead the group better than Dylan Rhodes, their FBI mole and handler. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that Henley Reeves has left the Horsemen and started a new life. When she’s replaced by the brash and energetic Lula, it further confirms Atlas’ frustrations.
Orders finally come in from The Eye and their new target is a tech entrepreneur who secretly plans to steal data from his customers via a widely-used microchip. However, as the Four Horsemen begin their performance to expose him, things go horribly wrong. A mysterious figure interrupts their performance, summons the FBI, reveals that Jack Wilder is still alive, and exposes Dylan Rhodes as the mole that he is. To make matters worse, the Four Horsemen are kidnapped as they attempt to flee.
With the Horsemen gone and his secret exposed, Reeves only has one option to get them back and expose their new enemy. He must turn to his greatest foe, Thaddeus Bradley, who is sitting in a jail cell and waiting for revenge.
Now You See Me 2 is rated PG-13 for violence and some language.
If you liked Now You See Me, it’s a pretty sure bet that you’re going to enjoy Now You See Me 2. It’s more of the same. It has mostly the same cast (except for Isla Fisher and Mélanie Laurent). It has more magic tricks. It has big chase scenes. It continues to feature an impossible heist. So if you liked that, you’ll like this.
One of my problems with the first film was that it didn’t focus on the Four Horsemen enough. The spotlight was mostly on Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes, so I didn’t feel we got to learn much about their characters, backgrounds, and motivations. That’s rectified in this sequel as the magicians are front and center, and this time Ruffalo joins them for the ride. Also new are some international settings which spice things up. The action takes place in Macau and London which adds some flair to the story, especially as the characters are thrown out of their element.
The best thing about this film series is the cast. You can put Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, and the others into a room reading the telephone book and it will be compelling. So the fact that they can elevate this terrible script into something somewhat entertaining is a testament to their star power. Morgan Freeman continues to be interesting as Thaddeus Bradley. We learn a bit more about his character and his elaborate schemes are believable, no matter how unrealistic they are, because it’s Morgan Freeman. Michael Caine is also sinister as Arthur Tressler. It’s amazing how Caine can effortlessly switch between hero and villain. Woody Harrelson is also given significantly more to do as he plays both Merritt McKinney and his twin brother. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Harrelson in such a comedic role, but this reminds you of what he’s capable of.
As for the new cast, Lizzy Caplan stands out as Lula. She steals every scene she’s in, even against the veteran actors. She’s funny, intelligent, and has a wicked sense of humor. In fact, I’d argue she’s better than Isla Fisher was in the first film. It will be interesting to see where her career goes from here. Daniel Radcliffe also joins the cast as Walter Mabry, but the former Harry Potter star doesn’t do magic this time around. He plays the main villain and he does so pretty effectively. He perfects the crazed look and the entitled billionaire mentality. He’s an easy character to dislike, but they do add some humor to him that makes him entertaining.
What Didn’t Work:
I was not a big fan of Now You See Me and though I went into the sequel with an open mind, I ultimately was not a fan of it either. My main problem was that I could not simply turn my brain off and enjoy Now You See Me 2 for the popcorn cinema it was intended to be. And this was mainly for the same reasons I didn’t like the first film.
First off, it’s not very realistic at all. For example, the Four Horsemen are supposedly internationally-famous fugitives, yet they walk around in public and past security without disguises. Then, when they do manage to pull off a stunt, it’s with perfectly-functioning lighting, sound systems, and satellite feeds that broadcast at every major landmark around the world. Again, not terribly realistic. Then throw in the characters flying internationally without being caught, prisoners waltzing out of jail, etc. etc. etc. and you get the idea.
My other problem was with the magic itself. When they are doing real tricks, it’s quite impressive. Like with a three-card Monte trick they do late in the film or another card trick that they did in the opening of the first film. Those mental games are pretty cool and could be easily repeated in real life, but when the movie started using CG, they lost me. For example, Atlas concludes a trick by falling backwards into concrete and turning into water… an obvious CG trick. The same goes for a gag where the characters are being searched and hiding a card with sleight of hand. It’s quite impressive, then they spoil it with weak CG as they pass the card from one to the other. If they had eliminated all CG tricks, it would have been a lot better. Then there’s the heavy use of hypnotism as a plot device. The way they use hypnotism in this movie is not how it really works. I’ve watched friends be hypnotized before and I believe it can really be done, but certainly not in the way shown in this film. It ultimately feels like a way to get the characters out of a corner they’ve been written into.
Then there are the Four Horsemen themselves. As soon as they waltz onto a stage in a spotlight with a headset and start lecturing the audience about how smart they are, it’s incredibly annoying. They are so smug that I actually root for the cops to catch them and lock them up. The arrogance of the Four Horsemen doesn’t make me believe for an instant that they actually believe in the causes they are fighting for. They’re more interested in making themselves look cool. So when you’re actually rooting against the heroes in the film, it’s not a good sign. I’d believe the Four Horsemen more as street magicians who help the little guy here and there with their magic than internationally-wanted magicians who take down corporate criminals via major stage productions. In other words, I’d believe in a David Blaine crime fighter before a David Copperfield one.
Finally, the big plot twists make no sense. If you get to the end of this film and then go and re-watch them both again, the pieces of the puzzle in no way fit each other. There are so many double crosses and triple crosses that you lose track. I’d also add that unless you’ve seen the first film, this sequel will make no sense whatsoever. Don’t attempt to view this without having seen the previous movie.
The Bottom Line:
When I walked out of this theater, my wife ultimately enjoyed Now You See Me 2 and so did the audience. So despite my displeasure with it, I think it’s possible to enjoy this film if you turn off your brain and don’t overanalyze it. But if it’s a problem for you like it was for me, skip it.