The script tries to add some depth to the characters, but only fully exposes how terribly uninteresting they are.
For its next trick, this sequel about a group of underground magicians will make logic and cohesion disappear into thin air.
Now You See Me 2 follows the Four Horsemen, rebel magicians who all fight for the same cause. There’s paranoid illusionist Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), carefree wisecracker Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and card master Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). They are joined by a new Horseman, Lula (Lizzy Caplan), a happy-go-lucky novice magician. They are led by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). The Horsemen have gone into hiding since the last film, resurfacing in order to expose the corrupt practices of a tech giant. However, their comeback performance is interrupted by millionaire Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who threatens the Horsemen to steal a very important drive from a competitor.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with an absurd premise like this. To the film’s credit, it does lighten the atmosphere from the first’s self-seriousness. The original film’s director Louis Leterrier has been replaced with Jon M. Chu, whose previous credits include Never Say Never, Step Up 3D, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Jem and the Holograms. What Chu gives this film that Leterrier was missing is a flashy canvas. The mood is looser, the humor sometimes hits, and the tricks are quick and snazzy. The magic is very sleight-of-hand in the first act, which is much more entertaining than the CGI it soon relies on.
While adding some weight to the crazy story, the great cast does not really bring anything fresh, with two exceptions. Caplan is a welcome source of humor as the smug yet excitable Lula. She has a way with the words on a page, using both her voice and body language to make even the most useless jokes work. There are a few villains in this film, but Radcliffe shines the most. He completely loses himself in this zany businessman, relishing in the terrible things he is doing. There’s also a bounciness to the lighting in these settings, which cinematographer Peter Deming takes full advantage of. Brian Tyler delivers a score that pays beautiful homage to the works of Lalo Schifrin.
However, act two hits and that goodwill vanishes. All the cool slight of hand is replaced by CGI, thus ruining any illusion this film is trying to create. We get the introduction of Harrelson’s character’s twin brother (played also by Harrelson), whose surfer dude persona and out-of-date wig and goatee grate rather quickly. The script tries to add some depth to the characters, but only fully exposes how terribly uninteresting they are. Screenwriter Ed Solomon is trying to balance too many characters. I have not even mentioned that Morgan Freeman returns as magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley, whose motivations are all over the map. There’s too much here, and all of it is convoluted.
But none of it gets as insane as act three, which ups the stakes and production values to the point of annoyance. At this point, the film tries to explain how these set pieces are possible. What results is an explanation that feels half-hearted at best. You would be better off believing these magicians were graduates of Hogwarts. The biggest hindrance of this act is the camera that never finds a time to slow down and breathe. It is like Chu just cannot help himself and, as a result, the pacing feels more akin to a music video than a feature film. The action sequences are standard and further hampered by uneasy editing and shaky cam. The fun breezy adventure we looked to be promised in the beginning eventually falls into incomprehension. By the time it is all over, the answers you receive will not even compare to the questions you will still have. | Bill Loellke