THREE years after the unexpected box-office success of the first film, Now You See Me 2 brings the majority of its fairly likeable characters back but ends up even duller than the underwhelming first effort.
Having eluded justice since the events of Now You See Me, vigilante magician group the Horsemen, led by Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), are currently in hiding. Alongside colleagues Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Wilder (Dave Franco) and new addition Lula Ma (Lizzy Caplan), they come out of hiding to expose more corruption, the basis for their magic show, with the help of former nemesis now collaborator FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).
When they are exposed however, they are forced to go on the run, Rhodes included when his colleagues realise his ‘deception’. The Horsemen however find themselves abducted in Macau, where they are ordered by the villainous Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) to obtain a device which planned to be used by the man their magic show set out to publicise. Life is made more complex when it turns out Mabry is the son of the shady businessman (Michael Caine) who they fleeced in the original.
On top of having to perform their risky mission, stay hidden from a pursuing FBI and being one ahead of Merritt’s deceitful twin brother Chase, the reappearance of the imprisoned Bradley (Morgan Freeman) threatens a collision course that could endanger the lives of our heroes.
The first film was an unexpected box office success, grossing more than $350million worldwide, meaning the announcement of the sequel was no surprise. Of course this would have been something to look forward to if the first film hadn’t turned out to be a often-twisty but inconsistent, bland work that only looked good on the trailer.
After viewing this, any hope of seeing a rare better-than-the-weak-original is obviously dispelled as this turns out to be much weaker than the first one.
The majority of actors in this film are the sort who probably don’t need to be in a film like this. Ruffalo and Eisenberg belong elsewhere in more serious drama fare, while veterans Freeman and Caine, no strangers to a questionable career path once or twice, do what they can do but remind us they can be in far better. Lizzy Caplan, a tour-de-force on television with her role in the Showtime series Masters of Sex, replaces Isla Fisher as a different character but seems a shadow of what she is capable of.
The interesting scenario is how Daniel Radcliffe, shaking off the Harry Potter vibe, turns out to be the more welcome player, mixing wit and sarcasm with ruthlessness that brings the few positives this film has. Even if his unshaven Mabry isn’t the equivalent of Alan Rickman in Die Hard or Gary Oldman in Leon, there is something watchable about his performance and that helps him convince as villainous.
There are times when even for a film examining the art of illusion, it can come across as somewhat preposterous. The sequence where they attempt to dodge security upon stealing a device and pass it into one another’s sleeves or conveniently moving it in their hands away from security’s eyesight is key for this belief as it seems the filmmakers are trying too hard.
While the first film had its occasional moments of mystery, this one serves as an excuse to make money. What is put on screen doesn’t generate enough surprise, nor suspense, and even the final act onboard a plane comes across as having a sense of predictability. Gone is the curiosity from watching Ruffalo being handcuffed by Eisenberg in film one and instead, the notion of showing-off is replaced.
The use of Atlas being able to make rain stand still during a busy London street or Lula Ma’s introduction to Atlas involving supposed decapitation does not leave one in awe, but instead justifies either the cynic coming out or being forgotten.
When it is revealed how the heroes have somehow managed to get from Macau from America in a non-realistic short time, one fails to see the funny side as Mabry shows them a display of him around the drugged magicians whilst they were taken there. When the film tries to be funny, like this for instance, for the vast part, it doesn’t work and even though understandable over-acting in a film like this is inevitable, that can be detrimental for testing the viewer’s patience.
Instead of just acting as a solid thriller in the world of magic, what is left on screen is a bunch of usually good actors acting out a script that does not bring out any gasps of shock and never sucks the audience into the action.
With a lack of intrigue and hardly any sense of being gripped, Now You See Me 2 wastes a good ensemble and does not do any favours for the idea of sequels.