With a franchise like Now You See Me, magic is dished out in more ways than one. There are the magic tricks and the movie magic tricks. Individually these are both great concepts, but in the case of Now You See Me 2 (NYSM2) these two forms of magic tend to cancel each other out, and we are left with something less than dazzling.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan) return for a second mind-bending adventure, elevating the limits of stage illusion to new heights and taking them around the globe. One year after outwitting the FBI and winning the public’s adulation with their Robin Hood-style magic spectacles, the illusionists resurface for a comeback performance in hopes of exposing the unethical practices of a tech magnate. The man behind their vanishing act is none other than WALTER MABRY (Daniel Radcliffe), a tech prodigy who threatens the Horsemen into pulling off their most impossible heist yet. Their only hope is to perform one last unprecedented stunt to clear their names and reveal the mastermind behind it all. – Lionsgate
The Horsemen are once again portrayed as modern-day ‘Robin Hood’ folk heroes, exposing corruption and showering their audience with money. They are still under the guidance of The Eye – a secret society of magicians – and Eisenberg’s smart-assed character is yet again the ringleader of their little group. Isla Fisher’s character is explained away in the first few minutes of the movie, bringing in Lizzy Caplan to fill the void as the female horseman.
The best part of the acting in NYSM2 is the flirtation between Caplan and Franco. That feels fresh and funny, without being overbearing like the misfire between Fisher and Eisenberg in the original. It seems that the filmmakers have overestimated the “charm” of their heroes. Eisenberg in particular is annoying as Daniel Atlas (not nearly as bad as his version of Lex Luther, but close), and what the writers may have seen as a fresh, snarky attitude, he comes off as that guy you want to punch in the teeth when he opens his big mouth.
The convoluted plot revolves around FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), skeptic and debunk-er Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), and a tech magnate (Daniel Radcliff) who forces The Horsemen to pull off an incredible stunt. As the plot begins taking twists and turns, it is quickly revealed that the writers just weren’t quite sure where they were going with everything. More is not always better, and in this case there isn’t just one or two mysterious red herrings – there’s a flock. The unpredictable becomes predictable after a short time, and the Big Reveal end up feeling implausible – there are tricks and illusions, turnarounds and reverses, bluffs and double-bluffs, leaving the audience dizzy and less than invested. You know that in every scene, what you are seeing is not ACTUALLY what is going on – and you are right every time.
Director Jon M. Chu may have tried to compensate for all the preposterousness by keeping the film moving at an incredibly brisk pace. Unfortunately, it throws the flock of red herrings into a tizzy, giving the audience a taste of what it would be like as a character in Hitchcock’s The Birds. The scripter Ed Solomon, who co-wrote the original, uses tons of misdirection to try and cover up the silly plot, and tries to conjur up a little Shyamalan Effect at the end. However, to successfully pull off a Shyamalan Effect, you have to have a believable surprise ending. NYSM2‘s ending in the exact opposite, feeling contrived, forced, goofy, and ridiculously implausible.
“How’d they do that?!” is not a reaction that one has watching NYSM2. Instead, its more like a shoulder shrug, an eye roll, and “Well, of course – why the hell not?” is the appropriate reaction to 90% of the film. That’s just the for the mind trick aspects of the plot. All the other tricks like slight of hand, slicing rope with a playing card, and pulling doves out of places they shouldn’t be are excruciatingly easy to figure out ‘how they did it’ – cinematic special effects. It’s next to impossible to capture the wonderment and awe of magic tricks when the perfunctory CGI is so blatantly in your face.
Shockingly, Now You See Me 3 has just been announced. All that comes to mind is Steven King’s eloquently put “SSDD” – Same Shit Different Day. Same rabbits, same hats, same red herrings you have to swat at like flies.
I suggest when your a friends try to drag you to Now You See Me 2, you do your own disappearing act.