‘Now You See Me 2′ Review: These Magicians Are All Out of Tricks
Oh boy, another sequel.
I initially started this review for Now You See Me 2 the way I’ve started a lot of reviews this year, comparing it to it the first movie in its franchise. But that was too much deja vu. I’ve been seeing a lot of sequels lately and the verdicts have been largely unanimous: The sequel isn’t as good as the first movie (as shown by this movie, and this one). It’s a pattern our own Matt Singer wrote about earlier this week; 2016 continues to force-feed audiences more and more unnecessary and redundant sequels, and most have performed poorly at the box office. In response to Matt’s question on the matter, I contend that yes, we have reached peak sequel. And if we haven’t, I’m dreading whatever comes next.
Now You See Me 2 is an essential example of how inessential movie sequels have become. It ignores what was good about the first film, abandons its defining characteristics, and tells a story nobody asked for. As viewers, we like to be teased and titillated; Now You See Me did that by using the spectacle and suspense of magic to unravel a series of twists and turns. As ridiculous and corny as the tricks in the first movie were, they captured that sense of awe and wonder a kid feels at a magic show. But Now You See Me 2 strips the fun out of the magic with a post-Snowden era plot that turns its magicians into moral superheroes.
In the movie, directed by Jon M. Chu, Jesse Eisenberg’s J. Daniel Atlas, Woody Harrelson’s Merritt McKinney, Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder and newest member Lula (played by Lizzy Caplan after Isla Fisher’s departure) attempt to expose a corrupt tech company called OCTA. They hijack a product launch event only to be chased out by the FBI and kidnapped by Daniel Radcliffe’s Walter Mabry, a tech billionaire who faked his death. Walter wants the Horsemen to steal a computer chip that would allow him to spy on the public through their computers. Eventually the Horsemen scheme against Walter to expose him for the big bad guy he is, but why are they suddenly heroes?
With this sequel, the franchise’s focus moves from its main gimmick (i.e. magic) to a political plot about surveillance paranoia that’s ripped straight from a Bond or Mission: Impossible. Maybe I missed the memo, but I thought the Four Horsemen were a group of magicians who liked wowing the public with dazzling tricks? Sure, they stole money from corrupt companies and gave it to Hurricane Katrina victims, but their whole schtick was mostly about the actual magic. (They also only did it to become members of the mythical cult The Eye, which is sort of a selfish motive to begin with.)
But now the sequel treats them as full-on Anonymous-style hacktivists (magictivists?) with a Robin Hood agenda. Even Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent gets his own heroic action sequence in the sequel when he fights Walter’s henchmen with martial arts moves and fire-breathing tricks (where did he learn those?). We have enough superheroes in the movies already; let the magicians do their cool silly magic tricks.
And yet Now You See Me 2 has hardly any magic. The movie’s big heist sequence is one repetitive sleight of hand card trick that goes on and on and on. I love a good card trick, but watching four of the world’s supposedly most talented magicians steal a computer chip, hide it on a playing card, and flick it between each other is pretty boring. (For what it’s worth, the cast even told me filming that sequence was boring.) There’s just one visually stunning sequence, when Eisenberg’s Daniel tricks an audience into believing he’s controlling the rain.
Sadly, the movie doesn’t have the same level of control over its characters. The Four Horsemen were previously defined by their personalities: Daniel as the cocky, yet charming leader, Merritt as the wisecracking schmoozer, Jack as the daring newbie, and Fisher’s Henley as the group’s common sense backbone. In the sequel, the returning characters rarely get much dialogue to showcase those idiosyncrasies or to even show off their magic specialities. The loss of Fisher is even more apparent with Caplan’s Lula, who’s little more than an exposition deliverer. At the very least, Harrelson provides some kookiness with his (spoiler alert) dual role as Merritt’s twin brother Chase, also a hypnotist. Morgan Freeman also returns as the charismatic ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley, and Freeman can make any bad movie a little more enjoyable.
Whether we like it or not, the Now You See Me franchise will continue, especially following this sequel’s ending that sets up more questions about the Eye. If the next movie avoids turning its entertainers into moral heroes bent on saving the world, there might be some hope. But it sure looks like this franchise is all out of tricks.