Now You See Me 2 (2016) / Thriller-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running Time: 129 min.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine, Tsai Chin, Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou, David Warshofsky
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenplay: Ed Solomon
Review published June 12, 2016
The makers of the deliberately vapid and highly superfluous Now You See Me 2 have chosen to fully embrace the dumbness of its premise, going full bore into just trying to make it ridiculous to the point of being entertaining, much in the vein of the globe-trotting Fast and Furious franchise, which eventually gave up on its street racing plot to become more action-oriented versions of Oceans Eleven. Now You See Me 2 could just as easily be called Oceans Four. Whereas the first Now You See Me suffered from too many moments of implausibility, the makers of NYSM2 have decided to have no qualms letting us know that they're going to play the entire film as a non-serious lark -- a pure piece of fluffy, sparkly entertainment with engaging and charismatic actors to divert your mind, employing magic tricks so outlandish that they can only be done in the world of movies.
The wildly popular troupe of master illusionists known as the Four Horsemen do mostly for self in this outing, no longer the Robin Hoods of the glitzy stage one year removed from prior events. This one's more personal, putting a backstory to the behind-the-scenes ringleader of the Horsemen, FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo, Spotlight), tying in the mystery of his magician father's death with a connection to the magic debunking man from the first film, Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman, London Has Fallen), who was the television reporter covering the fateful event back in 1984. In the present day, the quartet replace real-life pregnant Isla Fisher's Henley Reeves character (whose departure is hardly explained within the story) with a newcomer Rhodes has discovered from the 'underground circuit', magician Lula May (Caplan, The Night Before), played by Lizzy Caplan, who manages to fit right in. Circumstances lead them to being coerced by a powerful tech billionaire pulling plenty of strings in the year since faking his death and living in Macau, Walter Mabry (Radcliffe, Victor Frankenstein), who wants them to con their way into a high-tech security facility to steal a very valuable computer chip. Also out to trip up the Horsemen is Merritt McKinney's estranged twin brother (Harrelson (Triple 9) dons a wig and fake teeth), and the return of nemesis Arthur Tressler (Caine, The Last Witch Hunter), the wily tycoon who hasn't taken kindly to losing millions to them during the events of the first film.
This follow-up is a bit like the magic acts contained within, trying to dazzle and distract the audience for fear they'll catch on that there's really nothing much to find in the proverbial box. Though there are dozens of moments in which a character re-explains the plot in order to keep us up to speed, most viewers will likely stop following it once it becomes obvious that the makers of NYSM2 don't really intend for you to be too caught up in the hows and whys, merely using the illusion of cohesion as a clothesline to hang the various set-pieces on. Director Chu (GI Joe Retaliation) does a nice job in presentation: this is a slick and polished eye candy kind of movie, that's about as easy to watch as it is easy to ultimately forget. The smooth camera movements, colorful lighting, and tight editing employed are the real magic within NYSM2; all are top-notch professional, and completely in tune with the kind of premium showcase that the film itself is representing for the viewing public just looking for a good time.
Also, there are many magic tricks shown within the course of the movie, but they're so preposterous that you won't be sitting in your seat wondering how they did them, though you may wonder as you leave the theater as to why they did them. For instance, one of the flashier set pieces involves all four Horsemen using sleight-of-hand techniques to keep a bunch of armed guards from frisking them and finding a certain valuable object. They pass it behind their hands, behind their backs, into and out of their clothing, under their shoes, and all of this is done within a high-tech security area that, astonishingly, doesn't have a single security camera that would easily spot the deception. The plot bends over backwards just to include magic tricks into each scene, and will contort itself into elaborate knots to massage story angles until every set of skills from among all four Horsemen gets put into play for the set pieces. Merritt will say a few words and put people into hypnotic sleep, Jack (Franco, Neighbors 2) will find a way to throw or play with cards, Lula uses the elements of surprise and shock to steer attention, and Atlas (Eisenberg, Batman v Superman), well, I guess he just enjoys putting on a flashy spectacle.
NYSM2 is the Las Vegas lounge-act of franchises: flashy, gaudy, garish, and full of lots and lots of kitsch. However, while it might initially seem like a breath of fresh air, eventually the film's many excesses begin to weigh down the fun, especially as the stockpile of implausible moments that are stacked one on top of the other grow so high that we can no longer see the complete picture any longer. Although its condescension toward audience intelligence seems baked in to the series thus far, it's still an occasionally amusing, sporadically diverting empty-calories experience that will visually engage for the moment, then likely result in a headspace hangover once the overly lengthy two-hour-and-nine-minute run time finally decides to come to a belated end.
By the climax of the movie along the south bank of the River Thames in London on New Years Eve, whatever stray hair that kept Now You See Me 2 still brushing up against the realm of possibility is snipped off, as all stops are pulled to try to razzle-dazzle us with glittery spectacle and pizzazz. None of it makes any sense, and you'll probably realize in these moments that you have no idea any longer what anyone is actually doing in any of their respective scenes, or, really, what the Horsemen or any of their nemeses are trying to achieve. If you're watching a simple-minded, populist movie for two whole hours and you have no idea what's going on, that's a pretty good indication of a pretty bad film. For a film that has characters who are so skilled with every aspect of playing cards, the fact that it all collapses like a house made of them is the ultimate of ironies.
©2016 Vince Leo