Review: Now You See Me 2
PLOT: Eighteen months after the events of the first film, the four horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan and Dave Franco) along with their secret leader Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) are sent on a global mission in order to foil the plans of their old enemy Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) - who’s now in prison and thirsty for revenge.
REVIEW: Without a doubt, 2016 is shaping-up to be the year of unnecessary sequels. After THE HUNTSMAN, TMNT 2, ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS and NIEGHBORS 2 comes NOW YOU SEE ME 2, a follow-up to a movie I’m still not convinced many people out there actually liked all that much. The fact that it turned a profit seems to have given Lionsgate the excuse it needed to turn it in to a franchise, minus director Louis Leterrier (replaced by GI JOE: RETALIATION’s Jon Chu) and one of the original stars - Isla Fisher, whose absence is explained away in one throwaway line.
Unlike the first, which was a relatively modest chase thriller, the sequel’s been optimized for international success, with far-flung locations (specifically - Macau thanks to the now all-important Chinese market) and a new heist-movie vibe that’s clearly trying to do for this hopeful series what FAST FIVE did for Vin Diesel and company.
In this case, bigger isn’t necessarily better as NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (wouldn’t “TOO” or a "Now You Don’t” subtitle be more apropos?) suffers from all the problems the first did - namely that the horsemen aren’t terribly compelling and the magic tricks are all CGI-aided rather than good-old sleight-of-hand. If the first movie was like watching a Vegas act, this one is the equivalent of when David Copperfield (coincidentally the co-producer) made the Statue of Liberty disappear.
Unlike the first, which kept the Horsemen somewhat mysterious while Ruffalo was the protagonist, this time they’re firmly the leads, with the arc being Eisenberg’s Daniel resenting handing over leadership to Ruffalo, who winds up on the run from the FBI after having his secret identity exposed.
Most of the movie revolves around an attempt to steal a microchip that will give Daniel Radcliffe’s villainous Walter Mabry access to all the world’s computers. In essence, this is science vs magic (guess which wins?). While putting in Harry Potter as the non-magic baddie is a clever touch, the rest of the movie is assembly line in the extreme, with the biggest cliché in the book, that of the “evil twin” being the big twist (for the sake of spoilers I won’t reveal who it is - but it comes along early in the first act).
No doubt enticed by big paychecks, everyone’s back and game for a bigger sequel, but despite some nifty (albeit unconvincing) tricks none of the characters really stand-out other than Lizzy Caplan as the new girl horseman, doing her best to make people forget Fisher by throwing-off lots of wisecracks (and romancing the Dave Franco character). Woody Harrelson’s part is expanded from the first film to give him ample scenery to chew (he’s more effective in low-key mode) while Eisenberg, with his hair still buzzed from BATMAN V SUPERMAN, dials it down as the now mature Daniel, who doesn’t quite have the star power to be the Vin Diesel of this furious crew. Mark Ruffalo’s probably got the most interesting part, with him dumping the rumpled act of the first film now that he’s a full-on illusionist. Freeman and Michael Caine are also both back, with the latter in what amounts to little more than an extended cameo.
Fitting the China-setting, this one actually feels like a Chinese tent-pole in the mold of something like THE MAN FROM MACAU or CHINESE ZODIAC, with slapstick comedy, big set pieces but very little in the way of memorable action save a very brief scene where Ruffalo uses tricks to fight some Chinese musclemen.
Whether or not this turns into a full-blown franchise remains to be seen, but the ending clearly sets up yet another sequel. With an international audience the priority now, it could happen as this is the kind of empty-headed spectacle that exports well. But, despite all the money put into it, the movie drags and drags at just over two hours and in the end, it’s like watching an old magician just do the same tricks over and over. This is another sequel that can easily be skipped and doesn’t particularly improve on the original.
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