by Michael B. Hock
There are a lot of magic tricks on display in the disappointingly named Now You See Me 2. A man disappears into a puddle after controlling rain. A woman’s head is cut off. Hypnotism. Birds. So many birds. But one of the biggest sleight of hand tricks comes in the form of an attempt to justify a sequel to a movie that was largely a revenge plot that was neatly wrapped up in the end.
Backing up, it’s been about a year since the Four Horsemen, a group of magicians – Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, freshly Lex-Luthored), McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and Henly Reeves (Isla Fisher) – pulled off a heist/revenge plot against Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) for Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). Morgan Freeman’s (Thaddeus Bradley) is still in prison, making videos that are beautiful narrated because… well, Morgan Freeman. Atlas is getting jumpy because he’s tired of hiding out, McKinney and Wilder are trying to learn each other’s skills, and Henly was written out and replaced with Lizzy Caplan.
Naturally, they’re pulled back in to perform another heist at the behest of former Boy-Wizard Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliff) while there are more twists, turns, and a really cool scene involving a lot of searching and a playing card being passed back and forth.
This movie didn’t really need to be made. I get that it was like, super popular, and I like the idea of sleight of hand thieves, but the previous movie sort of answered the questions we needed: Dylan Rhodes, FBI agent was trying to get revenge for his father’s death, everyone was in prison who… maybe decided to be there, and the horsemen all get to join the Eye, a magic organization that may or may not exist. So, the first step in getting a sequel off the ground needed to involve some kind of justification for the movie itself to exist.
Unfortunately, this movie kind of doesn’t. This is a movie that is at war with itself, and unfortunately, everyone loses.
Once again we have some cool magic tricks and sleight of hand. There’s also a really cool sequence in which the horsemen smuggle a computer chip out of a secure facility, attaching it to the back of a playing card and passing it back and forth. The way the camera follows the card is amazing, just enough to understand how it gets passed around without the guards knowing, but for the audience to be able to follow what is going on. It’s that neat little trick – the audience is in on the trick while everyone else isn’t – that made the first one so enjoyable.
The problem with this one is the angst. Most of the angst was reserved until the very end of the first NYSM, in that you learn that it was a complicated revenge plot against the safe maker, the insurance company, and the guy who goaded Dylan’s father into performing the trick that ultimately killed him. It was a cool way to wrap up the plot, but here, it is laden with an angst that feels completely out of place. Atlas starts the movie wanting more for the Horsemen and seemingly conspiring with the eye to challenge Dylan for the position. McKinney ends up facing off against his twin brother. In an interesting twist it actually wastes the potential of Woody Harrelson playing two roles, which really should be everyone’s dream. It’s Woody Harrelson. In two roles. But instead of just the fun sorta scam artist we get in the first movie, we get the sorta scam artist vs the other kinda scam artist, and it’s not a very compelling matchup.
There’s also the heavy lifting done by Mark Ruffalo. Now, I want to point out he’s one of the few actors I would watch reading the phone book, but here he’s still laden with… something. Working for the FBI for reasons that amount to “helping them not find the Horsemen” his angry here. And still trying to go up against the people he believes killed his father. It’s unsettling, to say the least, to see the man who was pulling all the strings in the first movie flounder around. In some works this may be interesting, here it’s just boring.
Basically the movie about the magicians stealing things tried to be something other than a movie about a bunch of magicians stealing things. And we don’t need that.
It’s a shame, too, because the cast continues to be amazing, work well together, and you want to spend time with them. Lizzy Caplan is a particular standout that uses the fact that she’s new and a woman to confuse everyone, but it seems as if she is more on the ball than some of the others.
Overall, not a bad rental if you were a fan of the first one. But this sequel just didn’t need to be seen that badly.