It’s exceedingly difficult to find originality in a summer chock-full of sequels, which may be why the 2013 action movie Now You See Me was such a nice surprise when it was released that summer. The premise of a group of magicians calling themselves the Four Horsemen who use their elaborate magic shows to rob from the rich and give to the poor ended up connecting with audiences.
The unambitiously titled Now You See Me 2 follows a year after the Four Horsemen disbanded and went into hiding, but they’re called back into action to perform at a tech conference, which ends up being a trap that sends them all the way to China. They’ve been brought there by tech millionaire Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who sends the Horsemen on a mission to steal a drive full of information from his competitor, threatening to kill them if they don’t.
Despite its fun premise, Now You See Me 2 has enough minor issues that keep it from being quite as enjoyable as the original movie, maybe because being a sequel, the filmmakers desperately try to cling to what worked originally without altogether replicating it. In some cases it works, but in others, not so much.
Original director Louis Leterrier has been replaced with Jon M. Chu–who also came on board for the Step Up and G.I. Joe sequels–giving Now You See Me 2 a different energy than its predecessor, helped by the use of upbeat hip hop music that keeps things moving at a brisk pace.
Conveniently enough, the data drive the Horsemen are commissioned to steal is the size and depth of a playing card, so they can actually place it inside a fake card and use a bit of sleight of hand to get it past security. Unfortunately, that simple idea is turned into a long sequence that feels a little too contrived to work as well as some of the more conventional action scenes.
It sometimes feels like Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson aren’t particularly thrilled about returning to their Horsemen characters, maybe because they, like many, didn’t expect the first movie to do so well it would warrant a sequel. Ruffalo’s character, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, is given far more to do this time than just chasing the Horsemen, and we learn more about him, but it’s not like Ruffalo brings much range to the character beyond his norm. On the other hand, Radcliffe is constantly amusing as Mabry, who ends up being one of the three major antagonists that bring conflict to the story.
Some of the original cast are gone—most notably Isla Fisher and Melanie Laurent—but they really aren’t missed, because the sequel’s biggest gamechanger is the newest Horseman, Lizzy Caplan’s street magician Lula, who brings her much-needed comedy chops to the table. Dave Franco’s card-flinging illusionist is also back, and the two play off each other well enough to add another dynamic to the mix.
Otherwise, Now You See Me 2 offers a lot of nice surprises and twists, including the identity of one of the bad guys they’ve managed to keep a tight secret—that alone is quite a surprise—although the actor playing said role gives such a funny but off-kilter performance compared to Radcliffe it’s hard to tell whether it works or not.
Obviously, with so many characters, the sequel feels far less focused. There are so many factions with differing motives, some back alive after faking their own deaths or playing both sides, creating too much grey area about who is good, who is bad, who is a member of the secret organization The Eye and who is not. Eventually, you’ll start to figure things out and catch up, as all that semi-convoluted storytelling leads to a big ending with the Horsemen performing on the streets of London in front of an audience on New Year’s Eve, while also setting a trap for the bad guys.
As they say, all’s well that ends… well, actually it doesn’t end as much as it leaves you in a place where you’ll still have questions and maybe even want to learn more, depending on whether you enjoyed things up until that point.
Now You See Me 2 is probably good enough that if you liked the first movie, you’ll want to check this one out as well, but it doesn’t feel nearly as novel, original, or focused in terms of storytelling, which ultimately makes it easily forgotten.
Now You See Me 2 opens on June 10th.