Synopsis – The Four Horsemen resurface and are forcibly recruited by a tech genius to pull off their most impossible heist yet.
My Take – Released between a chunk of sequels and reboots, the original 2013 film was one of my favorite films of the year and was surprisingly earned a whopping $300 million worldwide. The film revolving around magic and illusions with a charming mix of Ocean’s Eleven flair and The Prestige complexity was a goofy, flashy, silly & fun thrill ride. Even though I agree to an extend that the idea of slick David Copperfield types using magic to pull off capers is enticing and spectacular, the first movie squandered its potential with an inane subplot about an all-seeing magic society called “The Eye,” which ended up being one of the most obnoxious film twists in recent history. (SPOILER: Mark Ruffalo’s skeptical protagonist is secretly the architect of the whole plan! Gotcha, moviegoers!) As with any decently-performing movie, Hollywood had to make a sequel, and as expected from the trailers, director Jon M. Chu (taking over from Louis Leterrier) has given one hell of a colorful thriller which is bound to entertain as long as you don’t sweat the details. The original gang, except for Isla Fisher‘s Henley (who is busy being pregnant), along with some very likable additions do a great job of keeping things intricate and twisted, while always keeping the audience in on the joke (and the tricks).
The story follows the Horsemen Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson) and Jack (Dave Franco) two years after they exposed the crimes of magic-debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and Big Business baddie Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). Since then, they have been in hiding at the order of The Eye. Yet have been itching to return to the stage and put on shows that mean something to their fans and help them. Their leader FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) gets in a new recruit Lula (Lizzy Caplan) due to Henley’s departure, and makes the decision to get the Four Horseman back on stage to target a tech genius Owen Case (Ben Lamb). As the Four Horseman make an attempt to end Owen’s fraudulent act, their plan backfires as the FBI walks in to arrest them for the crimes committed in the previous film. While making a daring escape they are suddenly kidnapped and brought to Macau by Owen’s presumed dead bare-footed tech pro partner Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who wants them to steal a magical computer card from his former business partner. Back in New York, with his secret identity exposed Dyan solicits the imprisoned Bradley’s help in finding the missing Horsemen, who are searching for a way to get back home and stop Mabry. Surprisingly, the plot for this sequel holds together longer than expected, which means, things make sense until basically the halfway point of the movie (though anyone walking into this one without having seen the original and probably more than once, will likely be lost). There are also some marginal but still noticeable stylistic improvements in the sequel. Director Jon M. Chu (a veteran of music videos and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) brings a peppy energy that Louis Leterrier’s first film lacked, especially when showing off the flashy spectacle of the Horsemen’s almost-superheroic magic abilities. Also, now that the Ruffalo-as-double-agent twist is out of the way, the film’s tone is refreshingly straightforward: the Horsemen take the true center stage this time, as Ruffalo provides backup while also investigating his own subplot about his dead dad, with Freeman in tow. The Horsemen are actually the heroes this time – no longer are they enigmatic puppets guided covertly by the film’s lead – and it immediately makes the film more interesting. It has to be acknowledged that the universe created in Now You See Me and its current sequel is surreal and comically cartoonish in its Vegas aspirations. These stories hinge on street performers who’ve become pop-culture icons, and the two movies work magic into routine action-movie clichés. You’ll either smile as Mark Ruffalo uses illusions and magic tricks to dodge common thugs in a recognizable back-alley fist fight, or you’ll hate that concept and, therefore, not be into what this film is selling. Though director Jon M. Chu‘s previous credits are nothing to write home about, Chu has solid expertise in directing movement, which he here fuses with technology and cutting-edge design to deliver on the big, bold, and innovative screen magic that the studio was undoubtedly looking for. Because of the intensely choreographed magical feats and stunts, Chu’s dance-direction history really works in his favor; it is, at times, a bit like watching a dance performance.
Going into this film, you would suspect that the writing is terrible – and it is, but in a really good way. Penned by Ed Solomon (who co-wrote the first film with Peter Chiarelli), the film leans into the fact that the content overall is a little bit cringe-worthy, making a lot of jokes at their own expense throughout. It’s annoyingly endearing, and totally gets you on board. The tricks were wildly entertaining and hilarious at the same time. As I sat there at the end of the film. I was attempting to figure out which one I liked more and to be honest, I can not really pick one. However, I do have a minor issue in the film, an issue which pertained in the earlier film as well – the continued insistence on building the bloated lore of the Horsemen’s magic masters, The Eye. By the series’ very nature, we can never learn too much about them, so the whole thing is relegated to vague, expository patter from a duo of grandmother – grandson Chinese magicians and a few convenient moments of magical assistance for our heroes. Ruffalo’s subplot about finding the truth behind his magician father’s death is plodding and superfluous, especially when the actor’s earnest good-guy routine doesn’t mesh well with the showy quirks of the other Horsemen. Yet, what really makes this film worthwhile though is the awesome cast. Jesse Eisenberg gives a layered and nuanced performance as the highly egotistical and slightly awkward Daniel Atlas. Eisenberg really knows how to use his body, gestures, and facial expressions to communicate things that his character isn’t actually saying. Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson are both given a chance this time around to add a bit of maturity to their characters. Harrelson is hilarious, and a welcomed tension-cutter to balance out the more intense figures. Dave is charming! Mark Ruffalo is always on point; his performance is critical to the film, as his penchant for subtle misdirection keeps you guessing against the otherwise predictable plot at every touch point. The real standouts, however, are the latest additions, Lizzy Caplan and the ‘baddie’ Daniel Radcliffe. Replacing original “girl Horseman”, Isla Fisher, Caplan oozes confidence from the very first frame as Lula, over-shadowing her skilled co-stars with her sassy and commanding screen presence. Played with a double dose of devilish ego by Daniel Radcliffe, and the gag of casting Harry Potter as the adversary of a team of magicians is too delicious to ignore. Radcliffe is awesome! Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are as always a delight to watch. Sanaa Lathan is alright, while Jay Chou is wasted. On the whole, ‘Now You See Me 2’ is as ridiculous, larger-than-life, funky and enjoyable as its predecessor. Its as stupid as you would expect it to be and totally owns that fact which is what makes it clever. A third film has already been announced with director Jon M. Chu returning (no idea about the cast though), which doesn’t seem necessary, but with a cast so enjoyable bring it on.
Director – Jon M. Chu
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 149 minutes