Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Premise: A sequel to the 2013 film. The Horsemen, a group of illusionists who use magic tricks to expose the corrupt and powerful, are strong-armed into pulling off a heist on behalf of a tech genius (Daniel Radcliffe) who lives off the grid.
What Works: The Horsemen characters of the Now You See Me films are a kind of street magic version of Anonymous, the hacktivist collective known for exposing the wrongdoings of governments and corporations. These movies tap into the economic populist sentiment of the zeitgeist as the illusionist vigilantes outwit the oligarchy and the authorities. Now You See Me 2 continues that appeal and the sequel is in some ways an improvement upon the 2013 film. It doesn’t make any more sense than the original Now You See Me but with most of the characters already established the sequel gets underway faster and the banter between the Horsemen is fun. The Now You See Me films are most reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven movies; both series are about fast talking and sharply dressed con-artists who bilk corrupt people out of their fortunes and their pride. Now You See Me 2 is enjoyable in the same way. The Horsemen are played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson with Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher as the female member of the team. Caplan is a great addition to the cast. She matches wits with the men and is the source of a lot of laughs. Now You See Me 2 features Woody Harrelson in dual roles as the Horseman Merritt McKinney and his twin brother Chase. Harrelson also gets some laughs and he’s convincing as two distinct characters.
What Doesn’t: There is an inherent problem with the Now You See Me films – the magic tricks. Illusions are impressive when they are seen live but they are much less impressive on the silver screen. Cinema itself is an illusion and today’s audiences are too jaded to be impressed with performers swapping cards or vanishing into thin air. But the moviemakers worsen their handicap with tricks that aren’t believable. Illusions are satisfying when they are subtle. The pleasure of the trick is in the way a showman misdirects our attention. The illusions of Now You See Me 2 are so big and elaborate and absurd and filmed and edited so frantically that there’s no believing them. The unbelievability of Now You See Me 2 goes well beyond the sleight of hand. This movie is so departed from anything resembling reality that it takes the viewer out of the story. The Horsemen are cajoled into a heist by an eccentric tech pioneer, played by Daniel Radcliffe, who claims to live “off the grid.” But the filmmakers have a strange idea of what going off the grid looks like. To really do that someone must forgo all forms of electronic communication, live a simple life that doesn’t involve utilities or lines of credit, have access to an untraceable income, and reside in places where state surveillance is avoidable. Radcliffe’s character is not doing any of those things and in fact he does just the opposite. Now You See Me 2 really trips itself up in attempts to graft this story onto the events of the original film. It just makes both movies all the more incoherent. Now You See Me 2 runs over two hours in length but this movie should be much shorter than that. The extended running time of the picture is due to the filmmakers consistently throwing plot twists, reversals, and reveals into the story. There is a difference between the kind of reversals of expectation seen in movies like Memento or Fight Club and what happens in Now You See Me 2. The former are examples of filmmakers masterfully leading the audience to a reveal. Now You See Me 2 is an example of moviemakers trying so hard to be clever that they twist the logic of the movie into a contorted mess.
Bottom Line: Trying to make any sense of Now You See Me 2 is a fool’s errand. This picture is bloated and incoherent but it’s largely saved by its light tone and likable performances. This is not a great movie—it’s barely a good one—but if you can ignore the cavernous gaps in its logic the picture is sufficiently entertaining.
Episode: #600 (June 26, 2016)