Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Morgan Freeman, Daniel Radcliffe, Jay Chou, Tsai Chin, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Caine
There is a running joke in this sequel about a magician pulling a hat out of a rabbit – gross as that sounds, isn’t it something you want to see now?
And by virtue of this being a follow-up to one of the more imaginative and enthralling caper thrillers of the last few years, isn’t Now You See Me 2 (NYSM2) something you really want to see, too?
The truth is, as slick as it is, under the guidance of dance/music movie veteran Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 and 3D, Justin Bieber’s Believe, Jem And The Holograms), NYSM2’s big illusions and capers don’t have the verve and freshness of the original.
This is not to say that they aren’t ambitious or audacious, but there’s a lot of downtime and times when the group is just … down.
We pick up the trail of the Horsemen 18 months after their stunning caper that all but bankrupted heartless insurance tycoon Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). No Isla Fisher for this movie, so it’s just original Horsemen Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), joined by new recruit Lula (Lizzy Caplan, in an initially grating performance that gradually grows on you).
Their leader Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), FBI agent and liaison with magic group The Eye, sends them to hijack a big tech unveiling and expose another crooked entrepreneur. Only, through a series of unexpected developments, they end up in the clutches of hairy, potty recluse Warren Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) and forced to carry out a heist that puts their lives on the line.
Throw in magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), now in jail but still playing a long game of his own, and things look really bleak for our heroes.
Whenever NYSM2 succeeds, it does so mainly on star power, from the principal ensemble to series newcomers like a suitably slimy Radcliffe, screen veteran Tsai Chin and pop star Jay Chou. And there’s Freeman, who sets up more dramatic tension just from a phone call and a video selfie than an entire screenplay full of plot twists and character swerves can muster.
Its magic tricks are pulled off with casual confidence, except that the central heist gets a little messy with so much misdirection and chaos that you wonder why the whole place doesn’t go into immediate lockdown.
NYSM2 is surprisingly light on developing its own mythology about The Eye and its secretive inner circle of “real” magicians. Guess this holding back is intentional, since they’re aiming for a series now (NYSM3 is in production), but it doesn’t do this movie any favours.
So while it’s still pretty entertaining, NYSM2 just gives us more of what we already expect. Like the best illusions, it should have done something totally unexpected, or at least as surprising as things can get in these days when (we think) we’ve seen it all.
Imagine if that “Box of 99 Magic Tricks” from the novelty shop actually had a secret, 100th trick. How sweet would that be?