Now You See Me 2 (2016)
You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet.
In 2013, Now You See Me surprised the world with its theatrical razzle-dazzle, the magician-heist flick grossing over three hundred million dollars worldwide. Mixing elements from Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (2006) with Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001), the ridiculous romp focused on the escapades of the Four Horsemen, a remarkably gifted group of tricksters who partook in a series of Robin-Hood-style robberies to expose a crooked billionaire for what he truly was. The key to enjoying the high-flying caper however, was to ignore its preposterous plot, throw common sense out the window and simply accept the unlikely idea that our rouge heroes were able to perform superhuman feats with no literal powers of their own. If approached in the said manner, Now You See Me made for an elaborately staged treat.
Now You See Me 2 opens one year after the show-stopping events of the original movie. Having baffled the FBI but gained the respect of the public at large, the Horsemen decide that it’s time to come out of the shadows by means of a meticulously crafted comeback appearance. With the assistance of FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), the Horsemen arrange a surprise performance, in which they plan to unveil a corrupt tech tycoon named Owen Case (Ben Lamb). But, when things go pear-shaped — and Dylan’s involvement with the Four Horsemen is revealed — the magicians find themselves in Macau, where they’re coerced into helping a smug megalomaniac named Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) recover a computer chip known as ‘the stick’ — a microchip with the ability to de-encrypt any gadget on planet. Forced into carrying out Mabry’s do-or-die job, the Horsemen (once again) find themselves facing off against corrupt entrepreneur Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) along with expert skeptic Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) as they endeavor to pull off the biggest deception of their lives.
While the first Now You See Me toyed with misdirection, and had viewers trying to figure out how the Horsemen accomplished their stunts and illusions, the sequel flips the formula on its head and gets us wondering how they’re going to pull these acts off? — this altered perspective pretty much sustaining the flick. With director Jon M. Chu — the dude who brought us two of the Step Up movies and Justin Bieber’s 2013 concert film Believe — taking over from Louis Leterrier, Now You See Me 2 plods along like a fantastically staged music video, each heist blocked as if Chu were choreographing a slick dance number — a sequence in which the Horsemen make their way into a fortified vault to nab ‘the stick’ is a real ace up the sleeve. Chu cheats and defies logic to make these coups seem possible — heck, the explanations we’re given raise more questions than the tricks themselves — but the sheer dexterity of each undertaking is the real beauty here.
Penned by returning screenwriter Ed Solomon, along with Pete Chiarelli, The Proposal (2009), Now You See Me 2 is much more complicated than it needs to be, its various twists and turns becoming more convoluted (and harder to follow) the deeper it goes — the final sequence is so far-fetched that it breaches the boundaries of plausibility. Furthermore, Now You See Me 2 wastes more time on that ancient order known as The Eye, a society so secret that even after two films we know nothing about! Just like its predecessor, the Horsemen aren’t fleshed out either as there’s little known about these guys beyond their specific talents. Thankfully, Ruffalo’s Dylan is given a bit of a backstory concerning his vendetta against Thaddeus, which is linked with the death of his father. While a bit clichéd, this side plot works thanks to Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight (2015), who delivers an earnest performance and the regal Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), whose quarrel with Dylan concludes in an overly exaggerated revelation.
The real drawcard here is the film’s cast with each and every member elevating the contrived material and making some of the mambo-jumbo appear credible. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network (2010), shines as the arrogant illusionist and leader of the Horsemen J. Daniel Atlas, while Dave Franco, Neighbors (2014), looks comfortable as the sleight-of-hand street magician Jack Wilder. Woody Harrelson, Zombieland (2009), does his best Matthew McConaughey impersonation as the pork-pie hat-wearing hypnotist Merritt McKinney. Not all is as it seems though as Harrelson plays a trick on viewers by pulling out his joker card in a duel-role that’s been absent from the flick’s advertising campaign, with the 54-year-old actor also portraying McKinney’s loopy, evil twin brother, Chase — and yep, it’s just as silly as it sounds. Lizzy Caplan, Bachelorette (2012), joins the team as Lula, replacing Isla Fisher’s Henley — whose departure is summed up in a lazy sentence — with Lula showcasing her morbid showmanship in an impressive introduction that involves a Rube Goldberg type contraption and a guillotine (a sequence that was surprisingly done practically, without the use of CGI). Daniel Radcliffe or ‘The Boy Who Lived’ is an inspired choice for the sleazy Walter Mabry, with an all-bearded Radcliffe chewing the scenery as though he’s portraying a Bond villain — it’s just a shame the writers squandered a playful opportunity to conjure up a couple of fun Harry Potter references. Last and certainly least, Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou, The Green Hornet (2011), is completely wasted as Li, the proprietor of a decades-old magic shop.
Look, if you enjoyed the first grandiose outing, chances are you’ll enjoy this tongue-in-cheek sequel, too. If you’re like me and found the original kinda befuddling, approach the follow-up with an anything-goes mind-set and you’ll have a better time. With top-notch cinematography by Peter Deming, Mulholland Drive (2001), a talented director at the helm and a glistening cast in the spotlight, Now You See Me 2 pulls enough cinematic tricks, puzzles and surprises out of its hat to ensure that we’ll be seeing an encore.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Now You See Me 2 is released through eOne Films Australia