Now You See Me 2
Now You Don’t
I’m not sure how, but somehow 2013’s underwhelming Now You See Me managed to pull a sequel out of its hat. The ensemble film was the equivalent of asking someone to choose a card and place it on the top of the deck, then immediately pulling it off the top of the deck, dramatically asking ‘is this your card?’ and expecting everyone to be amazed. That is to say, it wasn’t very magical. Which is why it’s surprising that new director Jon M. Chu seemingly waved a wand and made the sequel improve on virtually every aspect of the original. The movie embraced its campiness, resulting in more of a ‘ta-da!’ and less of the first film’s ‘meh.’
This time around, our Horsemen, a group of Robin Hoods who use their ‘magic’ for public good, are tasked with exposing and ultimately stealing a corrupt businessman’s software that can compromise users’ personal information. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco are joined by Lizzy Caplan, who replaced Isla Fisher as the token Horsewoman. Also on the roster is Mark Ruffalo’s Agent Dylan Rhodes, an FBI agent who serves as the group’s mole and the story’s emotional cornerstone. They’re locked in a battle of wits with Daniel Radcliffe’s Walter Mabry, who, disappointingly, does not make a single reference to his previous foray with magic.
The story itself is, unsurprisingly, an absolute mess. The Horsemen quickly find themselves on the run and, in the blink of an eye, are transported across the globe to Macau, China, where they encounter Merritt McKinney’s twin brother, both played by Harrelson to increasingly strange effect. The film rapidly cycles through characters; Caplan’s Lulu introduces herself by magically severing her own head, and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine return from the predecessor for low-impact antagonistic turns. The actors muddle through lines with humorous intent, but with a much lower success rate.
But, what this installment does get right is the magic. Chu completely embraces the film’s wackiness and slowly but surely finds solid footing as the scattershot story accelerates. The entire picture is best exemplified by a scene at the midpoint, where the magicians are going through security while trying to keep a single playing card out of sight for plot-related reasons. The actors go to elaborate lengths to hide the card, flicking it across the room to each other and sliding it from sleeve to hidden pocket. For whatever reason, though, they insist on throwing the card at whoever is next in line to be checked, making their mission much more complicated than it needs to be. All is forgiven, though, because this gap in logic leads to a beautifully choreographed, relentlessly entertaining sequence. Chu’s previous experience working on dance movies like Step Up works brilliantly with the choreography here.
The film earnestly asks its audience to leave all basis of reality behind, and is much more enjoyable for it. Culminating in a tour de force of trickery where the magicians freeze rain and make audience members disappear in London, the payoff is worth the goofiness it took to get there. Just like every real life magic trick, there’s a gimmick behind that can ruin the illusion. It’s up to the audience whether they want to look too much into it.