A Bit of Magic Lost in ‘Now You See Me 2’
Following the recent bizarre trend of unnecessary sequels this year, Now You See Me 2 feels right at home stretching the seams of its flashy 2013 heist predecessor. Now You See Me was at least entertaining on its own, leaving little wiggle room for its magician quartet to still wield a few more crucial tricks up its sleeve.
One year after the events of the first film, the Four Horsemen remain out of the limelight in hopes of eluding the FBI. That hasn’t stopped the Horsemen from working underground missions for the mysterious organization, the Eye. Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan once again plays both side as FBI agent by day and member of the Four Horsemen by night. Jesse Eisenberg’s Atlas, however, struggles with Dylan taking the reins as the lead Horseman and is contacted by an unknown source who offers an opportunity he can’t refuse.
The Four Horsemen, also including Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Lizzy Caplan (replacing Isla Fisher), are instructed to expose a corrupt businessman at his tech launch. The situation goes south when the Horsemen themselves and Dylan’s role as double agent are exposed. They manage to flee the scene from the FBI, but are captured by wealthy tech hacker Walter (Daniel Radcliffe), who recruits them for his own purposes. The reputation of being modern-day Robin Hoods sadly takes a back seat in this second adventure.
Directed by Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Jem and the Holograms), Now You See Me 2 is much more grander and complicated than the previous film. But going against the sequelitis rulebook, bigger is not always better. Maybe with magicians it’s different, always having that drive to outdo their last show. Then again, maybe not. In an overstuffed 130 minute run time, Now You See Me 2 dedicates less of its time to spectacle and more on oddly-paced drawn out scenes. It’s a hit and miss game of target practice that almost never hits a bullseye.
Dylan is dealing with his father’s death from his childhood and becomes consumed with vengeance against the man believed to have a hand in it. Mentalist Merritt (Harrelson) is forced to contend with his long-lost obnoxious twin brother (also Harrelson), who might even give Jar Jar Binks a run for his money. Dave Franco’s Jack continues to play second fiddle in the group, given little opportunity to break out as a standout performer. Newcomer Lula (Caplan) is a decent addition, introduced as an amateur fangirl of Atlas’ before warming up into her own in the second act. At least, they’re a well-oiled unit when they’re not bickering with one another. Radcliffe’s at least having a blast as the prodigous man-child moving his pawns in place for the heist.
For what it’s worth, Now You See Me 2 uses its greatest parlor trick skills during an elaborate heist in Macau. The situation, which occurs roughly halfway into the film, does go on for far too long. Still, its execution is orchestrated with more tension than anything coming before or after. Caplan’s comedic talents lend a hand to garner a few laughs when she’s being frisked by guards.
Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine unnecessarily come out the woodwork for a second round. Freeman returns as the thorny debunker, still bitter at Dylan for putting him in jail in the last movie. On top of that, he continues to threaten the Horsemen time and time again, that they’re going to get what’s coming to them.
At times, the screenplay written by Ed Solomon seems to be unfolding on the fly. Situations and relationships established in the first film are being rewritten to better serve this film and even more sequels down the road. The problem is that it undermines what the first time attempted to accomplish. Now You See Me wasn’t exactly the most logical or realistic when dealing with its set pieces. But here while the spectacle is upped the ante, so is the absurdity with greater style.
Without the charm and semi-plausibility of the first film, Now You See Me 2 falls into the same trap as so many other sequels – style without substance. All that’s left for a potential third film is an ultimate disappearing act, because it’s already one film overdue.