By Michael Kaye
Now You See Me 2 (Review)
It didn't hit me until recently, but this year we're getting a pretty healthy dose of magic at the movies. Obviously the heavy hitters like Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them arrive in November, but before that we've seen traces of it in Gods of Egypt, Warcraft and today's film, Now You See Me 2, directed this time by Jon M. Chu.
Here's the story. One year after outwitting the FBI and winning the public’s adulation with their mind-bending spectacles, the Four Horsemen resurface, only to find themselves face to face with a new enemy who enlists them to pull off their most dangerous heist yet.
I liked the first movie just fine, it had a great ensemble cast and they got very creative with incorporating magic into a heist film. This movie is just as good, but falls ill to the common symptoms of sequelitis. Here are my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, yeah, it's all about that cast. This is probably the best I've seen Jesse Eisenberg play a character not based on a preexisting source material and/or a real person since Zombieland, which does kinda frustrate me because he's doing a better Lex Luthor in everything EXCEPT Batman V Superman (but I still liked his performance). I'm sad that Isla Fisher couldn't reprise her role as Henley Reeves, but fortunately Lizzy Caplan more than makes up for it with her character Lula, who often pokes fun at the fact that she's the newbie of the group in a very meta fashion. Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson are always fun to see in movies like these, and Daniel Radcliffe actually does a great job playing the comedic antagonist as Walter Mabry, the illegitimate son of Michael Caine's Arthur Tressler. But of course the best characters and the ones with the most interesting through line are Marc Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman as Dylan Rhodes Thaddeus Bradley respectively.
As a sucker for a good magic show, they really up the anti with this movie! Where most of the first movie relied on more believable street magic, caution has been thrown to wind here. The absolute highlight of the film comes in the third act, where the Four Horsemen stream their big act live in London on New Year's Eve. They do pretty much everything from card tricks to this really unbelievable scene involving manipulating the rain that you've seen in the trailers.
My last pure positive before I slip into the grey area is the music. Brian Tyler I don't think quite gets the credit he deserves as a composer. Sometimes he can feel like the Dan Castellaneta of composers when he takes over a sequel such as Iron Man 3 or Avengers: Age of Ultron. But when he's doing his own music, it's great, so full of energy that gets you excited when you're watching a movie. Personally, he'll still never be at the top level like Alan Silvestri or John Williams, but he still belongs in the conversation of great film composers.
And here is the difficult part of the review, where I can't classify these as positives or negatives.
The first one is one that already praised, which was the magic. Why bring this up again? Because the movie tries does something that the original only did a handful of times, and that's unravel every single magic trick they pull. On the one it is kind of cool to see how all of these elaborate feats are done, but it does abandon the golden rule of magic: a magician NEVER reveals his secrets.
That's another problem I had with the movie, the story. I know, I know, you shouldn't really come into this movie expecting any sort of deep narrative, but it still deserves to be talked about. I did like the development of the relationship between Dylan and Thaddeus, how they have a long history together through the great magician Lionel Shrike. However, the execution of the big reveals (which I won't exactly give away) could have been handled a lot better, and not treated like an afterthought.
Finally, there's absolutely nothing positive I have to say about this stupid ass decision: MERRIT HAS A TWIN BROTHER!?!?!?!?!? This is the biggest cardinal sin that a sequel could ever do, adding a pointless new character that has connections with the main cast. First of all, why did it need to be his brother, let alone a goddamn twin? Was it just so the villains could also have a mentalist? And second, if you're gonna go through the trouble of impersonating Matthew McConaughey (who's worked with Harrelson in the past), why not just cast McConaughey himself? Was he just not available at the time, or did he take a look at the script and say "no thank you?"
And despite all the annoyances, I still came out enjoying Now You See Me 2. Neither of these movies are great by any stretch of the imagination, but they're both in that "turn off your brain" camp that makes them fun to watch. Don't go for the plot, just enjoy the great character interactions with the ensemble cast and some of the coolest yet completely unrealistic magic tricks this movie has to offer.
Now it's your turn. Have you seen either of the Now You See Me films, and if so what are your thoughts? Also, what are your favorite movies that deal with magic and/or illusions? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where I take a journey under water with Nemo and his friends in Finding Dory!