“Now You See Me 2” – “Generally, magicians don’t know what to say, so they say stupid and redundant crap like, ‘Here I am holding a red ball.’” – Teller
After sitting through over two hours of “Now You See Me 2”, the magicians on hand definitely know what to say, but, unfortunately, they are conversing and performing in the confines of a silly, uninspired and sanctimonious story. Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Jack (Dave Franco), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), and Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) are back for a follow-up to the commercially successful 2013 flick.
Altas, Jack and Merritt are three of the original team who called themselves The Four Horseman, but alas, Henley (Isla Fisher) decided to ride towards greener pastures. Within the first 10 minutes of this picture, however, the film introduces us to a sassy and wisecracking replacement named Lula (Lizzy Caplan), and hence a new Girl Horseman squares up this magical quartet. Now, the Horseman have been in hiding for a few years, but they reappear at a phone app (OCTA) launch in New York City and are poised to sabotage it. Apparently, the OCTA app will do very bad things to your phone and tap into photos of your Great Aunt Alice’s cat and nab your 401K’s account password.
Since The Four Horseman are a team of do-gooders who follow orders from a mysterious, Illuminati-like group called “The Eye”, they are set to expose the truth and prevent a horrible wrong. Their plans, however, fall sideways and so do their bodies (literally), as they materialize into the lair of a young entrepreneur who forces them to commit an impossible-to-fathom heist.
“Now You See Me 2” is a polarizing film in which one either buys into the action, intrigue and big sequences or one does not. Please place me in the latter category.
Director Jon M. Chu and writer Ed Solomon certainly offer big ideas and magical eye candy, including the aforementioned heist of a paper-thin computer card. The 10 to 15 minute caper offers a dazzling sleight of hand as the Horsemen flip, dip and slip the card between themselves under the watchful eyes of several security guards. Even though the card defies all physics logic and flies with the help of obvious CGI, the wild sequence does evoke intrigue and tension.
For me, this card-flipping scene and the final trick were the high points of the film, and everything else pushed the narrative to absurd heights.
We get a flashback to Dylan’s childhood, constant references to the ever-present – but never seen – Eye, a leadership tug-of-war between Dylan and Atlas, and lots of quips between the magicians, which are much more amusing to them than the audience. Iongs Magic Shop in Macau garners lots of play and Merritt’s evil twin brother – also played by Harrelson – makes some dastardly appearances as well. Chu places all of Solomon’s ingredients into this very busy and showy soup, and rather than handing us a spoon, he tosses us a funnel to ingest the concoction.
The screenplay wants us to simply guzzle the cinematic junk food while ignoring the shredded narrative threads. The inviting A-list cast, dazzling tricks and fancy locales look and feel good at the moment, but the end results and big reveals do not offer much sustenance or satisfaction.
“Now You See Me 2” is not (completely) stupid or (entirely) filled with redundant crap. I just did not believe in it, and believability is a very important ingredient for an effective magic trick…and a winning movie.
Image credits: Summit Entertainment; Trailer credits: Entertainment One UK