Now You See Me was a shock hit a few summers ago – a magic-based heist movie, it was slated by critics but audiences were happy to love themselves in the fun of it. Now You See Me 2 will be lucky if it manages to find the same level of admiration – it takes all the worst elements from the original film, offering us a tale that is negatively packed and uses too many effects in place of anything more substantial.
Our sequel catches up with the illusionists known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Lizzy Caplan), who find themselves in trouble after fleeing a show and winding up in Macau, China. There, they are confronted by a devious tech wizard called Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who forces the magicians to employ their powers to steal a powerful computer chip that can control all the of the world’s computers. As they try to figure a way out of their situation, their leader, vengeful FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is busy hatching his own plot against Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), the man he blames for the death of his father.
Now You See Me 2 was originally titled Now You See Me: Now You Don’t but, in a wonderful case of studio interference, they managed to make it more mundane and boring as a result. Sadly, there is no such excuse for the rest of the picture, which feels bloated at more than two hours and keeps pulling silly twist after silly twist until you get bogged down, confused and really just frustrated. The film has so much plot that, in the end, it may as well not have any at all.
A key part of the movie is that we need to buy into the magic, and you simply cannot. There are several types of magic in this film – tricks that are immediately followed by painful exposition-stuffed dialogue that you will follow but won’t quite buy into (the secret of the group’s teleportation to China, for example), and then magic that feels solely like a CGI operator exhibiting deftness of hand. There is no joy in the artistry of the trick, and so you can’t buy into it – anybody can disappear into a pavement on film – and when your mind immediately praised the CGI rather than the ‘trick,’ you know you haven’t really bought into the film as you should.
Worst of all is one of the movie’s big set-pieces – they smuggle the computer chip in a playing card and conceal while being searched by launching it around the room, sleight-of-handing it to each other for several minutes. It flies around the room, defying all laws of physics as it works its way through everyone’s clothing (using equipment that the guards couldn’t find, seemingly) – we’re meant to enjoy this, but it’s so preposterous that you just can’t.
The cast seem to be treating this with all the respect it deserves (i.e. very little), with the exception of Ruffalo, an underrated leading man who is working his way through some heavy duty father issues. Caplan is fun and enjoyably kooky as the girl who ‘pulled a hat from a rabbit’ (such is the level of wit in the script), and Radcliffe is a touch hammy and bland as the bad guy. Keep your eyes open for Michael Caine, whose appearance is meant to be a surprise despite appearing on all of the posters – you’ll know why he is there the moment he appears on screen.
If you go to a real world magic show, you expect to be both entertained and amazed, and Now You See Me 2 manages neither. It is far too bloated and far too reliant on CGI to really amaze, and it pushes incredulity far too more and far too often to entertain. If you watch it and turn your brain off, you may like it, but give it a moment’s thought and you will be frustrated and annoyed.
Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg (J. Daniel Atlas), Mark Ruffalo (Dylan Rhodes), Woody Harrelson (Merritt McKinney), Dave Franco (Jack Wilder), Daniel Radcliffe (Walter Mabry), Lizzy Caplan (Lulu)
Running Time: 129 Mins