A spoiler for Now You See Me (the first one) lies within this review.
The first Now You See Me film was a bit of a disappointment for me. That’s the danger of a good trailer and stellar cast – if the script can’t meet the heights of audience anticipation then it’s doomed to fail. In the end, the twist made no sense, the characters didn’t gel and nothing really came together the way it was supposed to.
But then, summer 2016 is also an entirely different beast to three years ago. There’s so much vying for our attention that a movie like Now You See Me 2 could very well pass by under the radar, unnoticed by everyone but devoted fans of its predecessor. What does a sequel to a disappointing yet fairly well-regarded movie have to do to get people through the door?
Well, it’s opted for fun above logic, spectacle above plot. This is in no way a clever film but it is an ambitious one. Like a magic show, it knows you know it isn’t real, that the cleverness is all surface-level artifice, but it’s going to give you a good night out anyway.
Set a year after the events of the first film, the Horsemen are now in hiding, mistrustful of each other and growing more and more restless by the day. Shortly after recruiting a new ‘girl horseman’ Lulu (Lizzy Caplan), McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack (Dave Franco) and Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) are kidnapped and blackmailed into stealing a piece of tech for billionaire Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe).
While all of this is going on, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is dealing with some trauma from his past, which is inexplicably linked to his current situation.
One big problem the first film struggled with is the lack of likeable characters, and that doesn’t improve much here. These people are crooks and liars, but we’re supposed to believe them as modern-day Robin Hood figures and celebrities.
Granted, a lot of celebrities are also terrible people, but we as the privileged audience should at least see what the world at large apparently does. Jesse Eisenberg’s Atlas is the worst offender, yet there are huge swathes of the film in which he leads us through the story.
At least Ruffalo’s Dylan Rhodes benefits from a reveal at the end of the first film, meaning the character can be the kind of bumbling fallen leader-type the actor does very well. Eisenberg against him can also play to his strengths, even if you don’t come out of the movie believing any of these people like each other very much.
There seems to at least be an acknowledgment of past gripes, with Lula especially getting some meta commentary in about being the only girl in the cast. It’s hard to praise that too much because it would have been egregious if it hadn’t been included, but then it’s way more than I expected.
A lot of these actors lack the energy for a silly caper like this, which is a problem when half the audience are already wondering why heavyweights like Harrelson and Ruffalo are there at all. Thank the lord for Daniel Radcliffe, then, who enters the frame with sheer joy and enthusiasm. That character knows precisely what kind of film he’s in, and he’s going to make the most of every second of screen time.
The film on the whole uses the haphazardness that was a flaw in its first outing to its advantage, opening the story up to different locations, separating members of the group into side-adventures and basically throwing everything it has at the audience.
The set pieces are also impressive, with one extended card trick placed mid-way through the movie and the spectacular London-based finale sequence worth noting in particular. The joy here, I guess, is not with the ‘aha!’ moment but with the set-up. I’m not sure which the film is most invested in, but the build up really does make up for any glaring logic problems that crop up later.
As a summer blockbuster, Now You See Me 2 delivers on spectacle and light-hearted gratification. As is increasingly the norm, the end doesn’t really add up but who cares when you’re having a good time, right?
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