Back in 2013, the magician-centered action caper “Now You See Me” appeared itself to audiences, with the response to it being mixed at best. Some people really enjoyed it, others despised it. Everyone else left to judge came out of the film delivering a simple “meh.” I was one of the people who actually really enjoyed the first film, describing it in my original review as “exciting, mind-bending, and one of the summer’s best movies.” Even with such praise, which I tend to put on a lot of films due to my broader-than-usual cinematic palette, the prospect of a sequel wasn’t something I was necessarily craving. But alas, thanks to the original film having a pretty successful run at the box office, we now have “Now You See Me 2.”
This sequel opens up over a year after the events of the first movie, so in case you didn’t want the first film to be spoiled, now might be the best time to skip this paragraph. In fact, just skip this review, go watch the first one, then come back and read my magical (pun intended) words of critique on this movie. Anyway, it’s been eighteen months since The Four Horseman performed their grand acts to the world. Because of their insane and illegal acts getting them high up on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list, the group now lives off the grid and under the noses of those looking for them. They do this successfully thanks to the help of the “Fifth” Horseman of the group, as revealed at the end of the first film, Mark Ruffalo’s undercover FBI agent Dylan Rhodes. It’s revealed early on that Isla Fisher’s character Henley Reeves left the group due to the frustration of waiting around for their time to come back into the world, so she’s now replaced by Lula, played by Lizzy Caplan.
Just as the group sets up a return performance to expose the fraudulent and cruel acts of yet another money-savvy company, an unknown force seems to be a step ahead of the game and not only exposes the group and the secrets that they have tried to keep confidential, but also transports them from New York to China. The man behind their compromise is none other than Walter Mabry, played by “Harry Potter” himself, Daniel Radcliffe. The reason for his sabotage? Simple: Mabry wants The Horseman to pull off their biggest and most dangerous heist yet, and in return he’ll clear their names and give them their lives back. If The Horsemen don’t comply, then Mabry may very well kill them.
With sequels there are changes, and as mentioned before Isla Fisher was replaced as the Female Horseman by Lizzy Caplan. In short, Caplan doesn’t fill Fisher’s shoes very well. What screenwriter Ed Solomon tried to do with her character was make her the comedic relief, and almost all of the jokes that came out of her mouth didn’t work. Caplan’s comedic chops and charismatic charm are wasted here thanks to poor writing and dialogue that feels forced and somewhat unnatural in the world we’re in. If you ever had that one friend who kept trying to be funny and would never shut up, Caplan is a more exaggerated version of that. It doesn’t help that a random romantic subplot between her character and Dave Franco’s character shows up about 45 minutes into the movie and disappears until the end just as fast as it appeared. It’s something that could have easily been cut out, but the writers kept in just to try to have a couple more laughs come out of the audience. Miss Caplan’s a wonderful actress and actually somewhat fits as a character in this world, but the way she’s written is so poor that it ultimately makes her the worst character in the movie.
Along with Caplan being an addition to the movie, we have Daniel Radcliffe as the tech-savvy villain. At first Radcliffe’s character comes off as charming, charismatic, and very entertaining to watch. Within a minute or two of being introduced his character ultimately does one act that makes him go from charming to cartoony. Because it was inevitable for me to make yet another “Harry Potter” reference in this review, Radcliffe becomes less of a Bond-type villain and ends up playing his own version of Draco Malfoy. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you, but his character becomes more unintentionally hilarious and less menacing as an antagonist. He’s not as over the top as many other villains in magic-related movies, but he is up there, and to see Radcliffe say some of the dialogue he has here is sad considering how wickedly talented he is as an actor. Who would have thought that in a summer where we have two films starring Radcliffe that he’d be better portraying a flatulent corpse rather than a villain in a movie about magic.
International popstar Jay Chou, also known as Kato from 2011’s “The Green Hornet,” isn’t in it that much, but he’s solid enough in the time he’s in the film. Now that we’ve gotten the main new cast members out of the way, let’s get on to talking about the returning cast members. Jesse Eisenberg was my favorite character in the first movie, and he’s just as great in this one as he was in the original. Out of all of the Horsemen Eisenberg’s J. Daniel Atlas was the most interesting, engaging, and fun to watch overall. Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson are also pretty fun to watch, though Harrelson is playing two characters this time as his character’s identical twin serves as one of the movie’s antagonists. The twin, who’s name I’ve forgotten and can’t find online at this time, is much more over the top than Harrelson. The performance will most likely irritate people who thought one Woody was enough, but personally, I thought it was the best Matthew McConaughey/Stanley Tucci from “The Hunger Games“/Matthew Brodrick from “Inspector Gadget” impression anyone has given.
Mark Ruffalo has an expanded role involving a backstory that begins the movie, and his character overall becomes much more fascinating to watch. Performance-wise, Ruffalo’s just as solid as ever, though don’t go in expecting anything award-worthy out of him. Michael Caine is in the movie for maybe 15-20 minutes, and he’s basically playing Michael Caine. The same could be said for Morgan Freeman, but it’s obvious that he’s having some fun with his mysterious and sly portrayal of ex-Magician Thaddeus Bradley. Overall there aren’t any “bad” or “mediocre” performances from the returning characters, but from the new additions to the movie, they could have been written a lot better.
Replacing director Louis Letterier is Jon M. Chu, whose best films are “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and “Step Up 3D.” The worst films in his catalog, on the other hand, are “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and, according to friends of mine, “Jem and The Holograms.” Chu does have an eye for creating great action sequences, and the ones in this film keep everything from turning into a colossal mess. The magic tricks as well are highlights of the movie, with the special effects, in particular, being pretty outstanding when comparing them to other films that rely heavily on CGI. The sequence where the Horsemen are pulling off the heist and are on the brink of being caught is quite suspenseful, entertaining, and tense, to say the least. Even if you don’t care for the film as a whole, it’s hard to deny how entertaining this scene in particular is. Chu directs this movie as well as he could have given the shoes he had to put on and the script he had to work with.
As mentioned before, a sequel to “Now You See Me” wasn’t on the top of many “Must-Have Sequels” lists out there. Having said that, the movie could have been a whole lot worse. Sure, screenwriter Ed Solomon poorly created a comedic relief in Lizzy Caplan’s Lula and a menacing yet fun villain in Daniel Radcliffe’s Walter, but it’s easy to see that he wanted to make as fun of a sequel as can be. The forced humor and zaniness of the two aforementioned characters could have easily been toned down, and subplots like the Caplan/Franco romance and the unnecessary FBI story about arresting the Horsemen could have been taken out almost completely, but overall I’m satisfied with what I’ve been given here. There are some clever twists here and there as well, but at the same time, there are a lot of other ones that either feel forced or are very easy to predict. At the end of the day, though, I’m glad I saw “Now You See Me 2.”
If you enjoyed the first movie, chances are you’ll enjoy this one too. The amount of enjoyment you get from this one, though, depends on your palette, tastes, and subjective opinions. Personally, I found most of the acting to be fun, the action entertaining, the visuals outstanding, and the story as good as it could have been. For a movie that runs over two hours, I was pleasantly surprised that I never felt the length of it all as it moves at an incredibly well and solid pace. It doesn’t quite live up to the first film in terms of suspense, adventure, and overall entertainment, but it’s easy to see that the people involved with these films are having a fun time performing magic tricks, both within the narrative and in the post-production team members. As far as sequels go, this could have been much worse. “Now You See Me 2” is an entertaining, well-paced and fun little caper that, while has apparent flaws and is inferior to its predecessor, still manages to recreate some of the magical sparks that made the first one so great in the first place.