Overview: One year after the events of the first film, the Four Horsemen resurface with plans of exposing the unethical practices of a tech company, at which point they are kidnapped and forced to pull off their most elaborate heist yet. Summit Entertainment; 2016; PG-13; 129 minutes.
Now You See Me: If you’re looking for an intellectually rewarding moviegoing experience, you are definitely in the wrong place. Now You See Me 2, the inexplicable sequel to 2013’s Now You See Me, is as dumb as a bag of hammers. Stupidity is practically the lifeblood of this franchise. A group of four magicians pulling off heists isn’t exactly high-minded stuff, but the divergent approaches to this are what differentiate the two movies. The problem with the first one is that while it was still pretty goofy in concept, it took itself and its ideas far too seriously. There was some fun to be had, but mostly through laughing at the movie and not with it. It never felt like it was in on the joke. Now You See Me 2 could not be further from this. Director Louis Leterrier was replaced by Jon M. Chu in the sequel, which was likely for the best. Gone is the smug moralizing and in its place is twice as much action, story twists, and humor. The series has embraced its own dumbness and is far better and more fun for it.
One of the big problems with Now You See Me is that, for a movie that’s all about narrative turns and reveals, there wasn’t actually all that much to it. There are a few extended magic shows with detailed explanations afterwards and maybe one or two action scenes. The sequel treats magicians as spies with magic tricks and illusions in the place of gadgets, as well as an underground network of magicians working behind the scenes. We as the audience are no longer considered the marks for their tricks – instead we’re along for the ride. This is still pretty silly stuff, but it allows for our heroes to have far more to do throughout the runtime. The Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and newcomer Lizzy Caplan) are into conflict with Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Mabry, a big bad magic hater who is practically a Bond villain. There is even a scene of him enjoying a cup of tea after dropping Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) into an elaborate death trap. That’s how broad we’re talking. Now You See Me 2 is less concerned with deep characterizations and storytelling than it with whisking us from setpiece to setpiece along its globe-trotting adventure.
Now You Don’t: Speaking of which, the setpieces are a total blast. With each one, Now You See Me 2 manages to top the last in scale until it reaches a finale that spans most of London. There’s never a boring moment. Although, it is a problem that the best of these set pieces, in which the Horseman are pushed into stealing the central MacGuffin by Radcliffe, comes at the midpoint of the film. While the movie continues to get bigger, it’s never quite as seamless or entertaining as this one. The sequence, which features the Horsemen mounting an increasingly elaborate series of playing card manipulations to snag the MacGuffin, is simply astonishing. It’s built through a fluid camera work, subtle CGI, and a sizeable amount of charm and physicality from the cast. It’s extraordinary that hidden in a sequel that nobody wanted and few will bother to see is one of the coolest action sequences of the year, in spite of the nonsense it took to get there. It has a bit of a cartoonish glee to it, almost like it was adapted from a non-existent Saturday morning cartoon. This makes sense considering Chu’s filmography, which includes adaptations of G.I. Joe and Jem and the Holograms.
What helps the silliness is a cast that is game for anything. Despite Jesse Eisenberg being a bit of a necessary drag as the straight man of the group, the other Horsemen are a delight. Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco have killer chemistry with a great buddy/buddy back-and-forth. Mark Ruffalo is able to let loose and have more fun than the first one, and ditto for Morgan Freeman who is playing a deliciously masterful manipulator. Of the new-comers, Daniel Radcliffe is hamming it up and having a blast doing it. Lizzy Caplan (replacing Isla Fisher as the newest Horseman) is the strongest performer in the entire cast. She brings more humor and charisma to her character than anyone else. The film could be elevated an entire letter grade just because she is such a magnetic screen presence.
Overall: Now You See Me 2 might be total nonsense, but it embraces the dumbness of its premise and in the end is a great deal of fun because of it.