Now You See Me 2 (2016)

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“You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet”

Directed by John Chu
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman

A year after their last appearance, the magician-thieves known as the Horsemen – Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merrit McKinney (Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Franco), with fourth Horseman Henley Reeve having departed for Isla Fisher to have a baby – are waiting for their next gig and losing patience with their leader, Dylan (Ruffalo). when their moment does come, the three men and new Horseman Lula (Caplan) are exposed by a mysterious foe, who forces them to flee before mysteriously abducting them to Macau and revealing himself to be supposedly dead tech genius Walter Mabry (Radcliffe).

Mabry reveals that he wants them to steal an electronic skeleton key to let him rule the world from the virtual shadows, and has been working with Merrit’s brother Chase (also Harrelson) to set up this elaborate kidnapping. When they try to take the chip to the Eye instead, they also learn that Mabry has also payed a longer game, convincing Atlas that he has been in contact with the Eye when it was really Mabry. When Dylan breaks Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) out of prison to help save the Horsemen, it is further revealed that Bradley is in on an even longer game set up with Mabry’s father, Arthur Tressler (Caine) to snare all five of the team who humiliated him.

Barely escaping, thanks in large part to the intervention of a magic shop owner (Tsai Chin) and her grandson Li (Chou), who are part of the Eye, the team set out to expose Tressler and Mabry. They lure them to London with the threat of exposure, and use their sense of superiority to dummy them into an elaborate and dangerous double bluff before allowing them to be arrested, bizarrely by the FBI, despite being, you know, in London.

What’s wrong with it?

2013’s Now You See Me was a fast-paced, bubbly crime thriller which toyed with the idea of ‘real magic’ and presented a flurry of slick illusions that would not have disgraced an episode of LeverageNow You See Me 2 – which right out of the gate loses props by not being simply called ‘Now You Don’t’ – struggles with the need to up the stakes and the spectacle. It mostly succeeds on the former count, but doesn’t have a whole lot of up to go in the latter.

Of necessity, the sequel has to reveal more about the Eye, and aptly enough for a secret society, the more you see of it, the less impressive it becomes. In the end, the most impressive thing about them is that they apparently not only have parking rights in the forecourt of Greenwich Observatory, but the ability to clear said forecourt of tourists.

The absence of Henley is never adequately explained in universe, and the suggestion that the Eye ‘gave her an out’ is heavy with unintended sinister  overtones.

The twist at the end is perhaps a little too predictable, being the only one that doesn’t leave the Eye looking like total schlubs.

By the time the entire plot of the film is revealed to be a massive, overarching long con set up by the Eye to cement the Horsemen as a team, credulity is stretched somewhat past breaking point.

Harrelson’s second role as Chase is a weird, fake-tanned grotesque; like a refugee from American Hustle.

By putting the Horsemen on the back foot (a necessary step in making them the protagonists,) the film occasionally feels as if it is invalidating its own premises. In particular, Chase’s dominance over Merrit and Jack makes them look less like the greatest magicians in the world and more like a bunch of hacks.

What’s right with it?

This character could have gone so very, very wrong.
This character could have gone so very, very wrong.

Lula has the potential to be really, really annoying as the brash newcomer, but Caplan is an assured, vibrant presence in the film, repeatedly picked out as the standout performance of the movie.

The other actors play well off each other, especially the Horsemen, while Daniel Radcliffe is clearly having a ball being the stubbornly unmagical and utterly vile Mabry.

While there is always something a little odd about stage magic on screen, Now You See Me 2 provides enough glitz and twists to get past the fact that no-one is having to work without special effects.

Brian Tyler turns in another excellent score.

How bad is it really?

It’s pretty good, but kind of unavoidably it loses some of the mystical promise of the Eye in revealing them to be tricksters too, albeit tricksters with near-godlike levels of resources, insight and patience. It’s greatest failing is ultimately its highest conceit, depicting the entire plot as a grand con played in part on the protagonists, not to teach them the folly of their hubris, but to confirm their specialness.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The joke is that Eisenberg ends up playing the bimbo.
The joke is that Eisenberg ends up playing the bimbo.
  • The heist scene – and I mean, for starters, heist scene – is superbly slick, first with Lula and Atlas’s roles as floozy and scientist being unexpectedly switched, and then in an extended sequence in which the Horsemen pass a playing card with the chip glued to it from one to another in a dazzling array of palms, hand-offs and card throws.
  • The bookend voice over, which shifts through the change of perception from a threat to a promise.

What’s up with…?

Effortlessly likable former child star grows a beard and brilliantly plays insufferable douchebags. Daniel Radcliffe is the Wil Wheaton of his generation.
Fear the beard!
  • The beard of doucheness? Radcliff is sporting the same fungus as Wil Wheaton, another fundamentally likable former child star who now specialises in playing unmitigated and unrepentant scumbags.
  • Bradley? Did he let himself be arrested in the first movie?

Ratings

Production values – As it would have to be, the film is beautifully put together. 3
Dialogue and performances – An excellent cast do good work, and although the script has few really quotable lines, it’s never terrible. 5
Plot and execution – By combining an intricate plot founded on practical illusion with a rankly magical world of elastic physics and nearly all-powerful secret societies, the film becomes too clever for its own good. 12
Randomness – Despite the looseness of the film’s physical laws, its narrative is mostly sound, not least because any seeming coincidence is later explained as part of the greater game. 4
Waste of potential – I really liked Now You See Me, and while I know not everyone did, I feel that the sequel lost some of the air of ineffable mystery that made the original work. 8

Overall 32%

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