Now You See Me was one of my favorite movies of 2013. Yes, it was ridiculous and yes, its story was often, let’s say, unlikely. But it knew perfectly well how preposterous it was and made for an exhilarating experience. Even if its third-act surprise didn’t make sense even within the context of its intentionally silly universe, I still very much loved it. And not once did I feel as if a sequel was required. There seems to be a lot of that going around lately, what with Finding Dory being in theaters and Independence Day 2 comin’ right up.
The first movie, by Louis Leterrier, featured four magicians of formidable skill who would use their tricks to pull off massive heists and other coups with ease. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco are back as three of The Four Horsemen, with Isla Fisher‘s character replaced by an illusionist played by Lizzy Caplan. Their leader is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who was secretly the puppeteer behind the previous film’s events as well, all to avenge his dead father, a legendarily gifted magician – with apologies to those of you who have not yet seen it yet still chose to read a review of its follow-up story for some reason. I will reveal that similar twists transpire in this installment and that magically (har har) some are even harder to buy.
The Four Horsemen are still famous worldwide but presently in hiding (this is especially true for Franco’s character who is initially thought to be dead), standing by for orders from a shady organization known as The Eye. When finally tasked with exposing a corrupt tech business man as a lying fraud, an unexpected outside force leads Dylan himself to be outed as the fifth Horseman and the remaining Four to be captured and recruited by a young genius named Walter Marby (Daniel Radcliffe), who has a caper in mind for the Horsemen that’s unlike any they’ve ever pulled off.
On the run from just about everyone, Dylan is forced to team up with his old friend who turned out to be a life-long enemy and may yet be something else – Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), the retired ex-magician who made a living unmasking even the most intricately convincing of magic tricks until he ended up behind bars, framed for the deeds of the Horsemen. He’s not in his best mood when Dylan meets him.
Other figures who partake are Li (Jay Chou), who supplies the Horsemen with useful devices, Dylan’s suspecting FBI superior Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), a twin brother of Harrelson’s character played also by Harrelson, and Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the Horsemen’s first sponser who was also one of the first people they ruined with their outstanding trickery. I won’t talk too much about what his role is in this film but it does involve sweet revenge. Doesn’t it always?
As I’ve more or less implied already, the film does have its share of contrivances that may even be a tad more bothersome now than they were in the first Now You See Me, mainly due to the fact that the twists and turns are now higher in quantity and frequency. Still, it maintains that same sense of silly self-awareness that nevertheless makes it enjoyable, unpredictable (mostly) and fun as hell to watch. It’s certainly not a bad outing from a guy who has previously directed Never Say Never and Lord knows how many Step-Up sequels.
Naturally it wouldn’t work nearly as well without the top-notch performances. Morgan Freeman reads his monologues like only the voice of God himself knows how, Woody Harrelson played both of his characters with skill, and Jesse Eisenberg definitely deserved some redemption after what was done to him in this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Their interactions and dialogues are, once more, what makes it all work, including chances of a romance between Franco and Caplan. I haven’t yet decided who I adored the most out of Isla Fisher and Caplan; the “celebrity crush” half of my brain wants to say Caplan but I know not to trust that one too often.
The movie’s main fault is perhaps its lacking originality in terms of plot devices. How many movies have we seen in the past decade that revolves around sensitive information hidden on some sort of USB stick or storage dongle? Because it sort of happens again in this one, not that the design of the data storage device is anything within the norm. Can you guess which flat rectangular object it resembles based on the premise of the film?
After letting it sit for a while, I’m giving Now You See Me 2 a positive final verdict in the end. Yeah, the film is rife with implausibilities (impossibilities, in fact) and side-characters who are too dumb to see things happening right in front of them, all so that our Horsemen for the evening can conveniently get away and proceed with their schemes. A film can, in my mind, be excused for many of these things if it manages to have riveting characters, exciting (if somewhat illogical) plot twists, and consistent excitement, which rings true for Now You See Me 2, barring the occasional scene that feels stretched out beyond necessity. I’m told that a third movie is already in the works, and although I won’t lose sleep if it doesn’t actually get made, I will most probably go see it if it does. Maybe Radcliffe could teach the others some of the more old-school techniques?
NOTE: I mentioned Finding Dory above but failed to mention that it is only screening in the States for the time being. I will probably not review it until it premieres in Europe.