Did you enjoy the original Now You See Me? You know, the film revolving around a group of magicians known as the Four Horsemen and their Robin Hood via Las Vegas heist/scam routines? You know, the movie featuring Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Jesse Eisenberg as the aforementioned prestidigitators, with help from Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Mark Ruffalo?
Well, all have returned—except Ms. Fisher, she’s replaced by a much more capable Lizzy Caplan—and director Jon Chu has replaced Louis Leterrier behind the lens. Along with a new antagonist played by Daniel Radcliffe, it’s the same movie, except slightly better and a bit more fun. Does it make a lot of sense? No. Is the plot convoluted? Do magicians pull rabbits out of hats? But there is a genuine desire to entertain that overwhelms the viewer, helping them over the massive plot gaps and logic leaps the story insists on making.
Only Penn and Teller could pull off such ambitious, chutzpah-filled tricks and even pretend to be serious. Like they say, however, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice—well, that’s exactly what Now You See Me 2 does. It changes very little, goes right back to the source for inspiration, and utilizes the latest cutting edge film technology to replace what should be standard stage show smoke and mirrors. We enjoy it, even if we probably won’t remember much about it two hours later.
This time out, the Horsemen—Harrelson, Franco, Eisenberg, and newcomer Caplan—use their specific talents to help Radcliffe’s character, Walter Mabry, steal a priceless piece of hardware called “the Stick.” It’s one of the universal computer de-encryptors movie mechanics are in love with. There’s also an evil twin (played by Harrelson), more of Ruffalo’s character’s backstory, and a weird “huh” of a moment where he helps break Freeman’s magic debunker out of jail, only to set him up again. What?
Granted, everything here is just one big cheat, but it’s a fabulous cheat. No performer, no matter how polished, could pull off the illusions you see here, and yet Now You See Me 2 keeps convincing you that they are the work of humans, not hundreds of hours of computing power. This is in part because of our affection for the actors. Harrelson and Eisenberg specifically bring a kind of smug know-it-all-ism that transcends their roles, making their smartest guys in the room routine a joy to behold. They are the yin to Franco and Caplan’s yang.
And speaking of the new eye candy, she’s very good, both capable of creating a believable magician but also eager to take the piss out of things. It happens several times in Now You See Me 2 and the results are always the same. She even takes on her all-male partners’ chauvinism. As for Radcliffe, whose the only one here with prevoious “wizarding” skill, he turns his twitchy tech baddie into a fun series of ticks and asides. Only Franco feels lost, his card throwing abilities used to a good degree, but his character feels even less important this time out. It’s almost as if with all the new faces here, and the bigger heists, something had to give, and his Jack Wilder was it.
Still, Now You See Me 2 is the best kind of cinematic fast food. You can fill up on it, have the entertainment values fill up that hole inside your aesthetic, and then forget about it afterward. It’s not a guilty pleasure so much as a guileless one. It knows it’s a fraud and it owns every minute of it. The result is a wild ride that seems epic at the time, but shrinks in the memory. Kind of like a magic act.