Realism and believability were never strong suits of the 2013 magic/heist film ‘Now You See Me’ but but it had enough inventiveness, verve and joie de vivre to make the film an enjoyable experience.
However, the makers of the sequel ‘Now You See Me 2’ (with a new director, Jon M. Chu) in an attempt to outdo the original have ramped up the magic tricks on display to such an absurd level that it makes the first film seem like a gritty Sidney Lumet 1970s New York film. The sense of fun isn’t completely gone but the lack of realism is so shameless that it’s hard to care about the plot or characters this time round.
One minor example of the film’s absurdities occurs at the very beginning where it has a flashback to 1984 where a magician is going to attempt to break out of a safe buried at the bottom of a river. They have much of this scene filmed from the perspective as a live news broadcast hosted by… Morgan Freeman’s character from the first film Thaddeus with the title on-screen of ‘magic debunker’. That someone like this would be hosting a live news broadcast is nonsensical but considering what follows, it feels almost realistic.
Throughout the film the central group of magicians (‘The Four Horsemen’) regularly perform tricks and illusions so impossible that it seems the screenwriters took turns thinking of what would be the most logic-destroying trick imaginable. At one stage Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) falls on his back surrounded by hundreds of people and when he hits the concrete, his body has disappeared but his clothes have remained. These people aren’t characters anymore, they’re cartoonish superheroes.
The height of absurdity is an extensive scene where The Four Horsemen are trying to escape from a heavily-secured room with software chip stuck on the back of a playing card (don’t ask). When they are searched by security, they flick the playing card amongst the four of them in the most elaborate ways possible (why one of them doesn’t hide it after they’ve been searched is a mystery to me).
Scenes like that are so laughably nonsensical that it’s hard to care about any of the narrative or plot elements after this point as it’s clear that depending on plot or character requirements, The Four Horsemen will be able to get out of an impossible situation or get trapped in seemingly easier situations. It’s so arbitrary that one largely loses interest and it feels pointless even going through a rote description of the plot.
Interestingly, the film’s best acting comes from newcomers to the franchise. Radcliffe is fun as the chief villain, Lizzy Caplan with her charisma and comic timing proves to be an improvement over Isla Fisher as one of the Horsemen and Woody Harrelson has campy fun by playing the twin of his character from the first film. However, virtually all of the returning main actors make little impression because there’s nothing new to their characters (or banter) and they’re just going through the same patterns and shtick from the first film.
To be fair to NYSM2, the film still provides some entertainment and fun, especially if you enjoy magic. And the central trick involved in the finale is actually fairly well done (and by the standards of the film, semi-plausible). But overall the film is tiresomely slick and frankly rather tedious to get through. While there’s apparently another sequel planned, it’s one I’ll almost certainly be skipping.