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Now You See Me 2 - Movie Review

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2 stars

Who would have ever imagined that a little magic-meets-heist film that virtually came and went with little fanfare a few years ago would warrant not only a sequel, but one positioned smack-dab at the apex of the summer release season?

But that’s exactly what has happened with Now You See Me 2, the star-studded follow-up to an original that somehow amassed a $300+ million worldwide box office take while slowly garnering a cult following on home video. Though the original started out interesting enough and initially felt sequel-worthy, it quickly fell apart into a steaming pile of now-you-see-it hocus-pocus. Definitely not something that needed a revisit.

Regardless, here we are with Now You See Me 2, a film with a much bigger scope, bigger laughs, and bigger action than the original. But bigger doesn’t necessarily equal better in the case of a film that relies on clever sleight-of-hand plot twists and smoke-and-mirrors camera trickery to entertain an audience.

Now You See Me 2 picks up about a year after the master magicians known as the Four Horsemen captured the public’s admiration and confounded the FBI with their astonishing Robinhood-style magic shows that bilked insurance magnate millionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) of millions and sent professional skeptic and magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to jail in their place.

The Horsemen – Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and newest female member Lula Lizzy Caplan) – find themselves assembled this time in Macau where they are employed to help entrepreneur and tech guru Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) recover some kind of powerful all-seeing microchip that will allow him to control the world. But nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted as the team of magicians tries to pull of the most difficult heist of their careers. Even they couldn’t have anticipated the unexpected surprise awaiting them. And to the film’s detriment, neither could we.

John Chu, who takes over the chair from Luis Letterier, and screenwriter Ed Solomon (Charlie’s Angels) clearly set out to capture the fun, breezy spirit of the original, but fail quite spectacularly in their attempt to reinvent the concept for another go-around. Aside from the fact that the story doesn’t really make a lick of sense, these big new action sequences are poorly edited with chopped-up frenzy that gets quite nauseating.

In addition, the plot has so many twisty-turny about-faces and rug-pulls, where one thing eventually turns out to be another, then that thing becomes something else entirely, we’re never quite able to find trust in anything or anyone. Sure, a nice twist or two is fine, but to make something like this work, it all must be constructed – at least loosely – within the confines of reality. Despite the film’s many attempts to explain away the numerous plot holes and ridiculous deceptions, very little of it is believable and most is simply flat out preposterous. You can pull the rug out from under us only so many times before the gag gets really old. There’s clever, then there’s stupid. Now You see Me 2 will never make Mensa.

If the convoluted story itself weren’t such a failed trick, perhaps we could find someone amongst the numerous characters to get behind. But following characters who are never really who we think they are just feels false. The original concerned itself a bit more with its characters, and each one had a specific skill that played nicely into the group’s next heist. Here, everyone is a footnote that can be sacrificed at any moment in the service of the next trick.

There is no denying that somewhere beneath the Now You See Me franchise lurks a clever concept waiting to fool the pants off us – something the original nearly did. But Now You See Me 2 feels cobbled together from a few spare parts borrowed from Kingsman: The Secret Service and others repurposed from The Prestige. In trying so hard to pull off a a spectacular grand illusion, it only manages to reveal the numerous underhanded gadgets hidden up its sleeve.

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