UK Release Date: 4th July 2016
Runtime: 129 minutes
Director: Jon M Chu
Writer: Ed Solomon
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman
Synopsis: The Horsemen return, only to immediately find themselves captured by a criminal and used to carry out a major heist on his behalf using their unique abilities as illusionists and con artists.
With its kinetic action sequences and surprisingly neat third act twist, magician caper Now You See Me was a surprise box office hit back in 2013. A sequel was an inevitability, but there seemed to be an immediate problem in that it was impossible to put the first film’s rabbit back in the hat. The result is a sequel, in the shape of Now You See Me 2 that grasps and claws at meaning, but is ultimately never quite able to justify its own existence.
Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is beginning to get frustrated at the lack of action since he and the Horsemen were inducted into secret society The Eye by Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). Atlas remains in hiding, alongside Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), as well as new addition Lula May (Lizzy Caplan). The team is then tasked with exposing a tech entrepreneur’s unethical use of data, but finds themselves captured by grinning villain Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who wants to use the Horsemen to pull off an impossible heist.
The joy of Now You See Me was in the enthusiasm and energy it brought to its ludicrous story and over-cranked action sequences. Thankfully, much of that joy is present and correct in Now You See Me 2, which inherits many of its stylistic tics and ideas from its predecessor. Director Jon M Chu, best known for his work on the Step Up franchise, replaces Louis Leterrier but echoes his hyper-kinetic style in the heist sequences. One scene, in which the Horsemen steal a playing card MacGuffin, is an outstanding showcase of inventive direction that sees the film come to life in compelling fashion.
The early part of the film is an entertaining reintroduction to the world of the Horsemen, even if the script has absolutely no idea what to do with Mark Ruffalo now that the cat has been let out of the bag regarding his identity. There’s a breezy pace to the film as it gets moving, aided by Daniel Radcliffe’s childlike villain, who regales the Horsemen with his plot in a frenzy of exuberant glee. Like anyone who ever tried out a couple of magic tricks as a kid, there’s a giddy excitement to Radcliffe every time he is given the opportunity to pull the rug out from under the other characters and indeed the audience. The only performer who can rival him for joy is Lizzy Caplan, who proves to be a witty and entertaining addition to the franchise.
Unfortunately, Now You See Me 2 is less effective once it moves into its final act. It feels the need to go bigger than the original and piles on preposterous action and a number of unnecessary twists and turns. Whilst the climactic twist in the first movie felt like the final flourish of an elaborate trick, this one feels like a sweating illusionist frantically asking “is this your card?” for the hundredth time. So desperate is this film to ape the successes of the original that it brings back almost every cast member and ties itself up in knots to mimic the structure, but never manages to be even half as compelling.
Now You See Me 2 is not wholly unsatisfying, but it is a film that did not need to be made and therefore struggles to ever find a raison d’être. Most of the cast members look bored – not least Woody Harrelson, who is saddled with a tremendously offensive dual role when the identical twin of his character turns up, complete with a flamboyant accent and enormous teeth. The final scene clearly lays the groundwork for this to become a trilogy but it will take more than misdirection to convince anyone that that’s a good idea.
Pop or Poop?
There’s a certain workmanlike appeal to Now You See Me 2, which starts its life as an energetic follow-up to the impressive first movie. It does, however, fall apart somewhat in its grandiose attempts to top its predecessor’s ludicrous final act twist.
Many of the returning cast members are poorly served, the script runs out of ideas and the setup for a third movie is sigh-inducing. It seems as if they’ve managed to make the magic disappear.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.