Now You See Me 2 Review

The Plot

Magical heroes the horseman find themselves drawn into a complicated game of deception when a reclusive criminal tech genius forces them out of hiding and into planning their most impossible heist yet.

The Good

After the surprisingly lucrative box office success of the first film a Now You See Me sequel was an absolute inevitability.  But at least fans of the first film’s finely talented ensemble cast will be delighted to see a nearly full collection of returning stars. The mere combined presence of stars like Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Morgan Freeman virtually ensures the film’s highly watchable quality.

Newcomer Lizzy Caplan makes a satisfying replacement for Isla Fisher, after the flame haired Australian actress was forced to miss out on returning for the sequel due to her real life pregnancy.  Caplan injects her own personality into a character that legitimately adds to the ensemble cast’s chemistry, rather than just feeling like an obligatory female presence. Caplan’s Lula provides frequent one liners and even the occasional spark of sexual tension, particularly with Dave Franco’s card slinging Jack Wilder.

Another new face clearly relishing a rare villainous role is Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. In truth having the world most famous fictional wizard as the nemesis for a team of magicians is a particularly nice touch. It simultaneously feels like an obvious and ironically implausible casting choice. Sporting a beard and an accompaniment of thuggish henchman Radcliffe is actually an effectively obnoxious threat for our team of ‘magical’ heroes.

Combined with a few news faces the returning cast works its way effortlessly through a quick moving array of magical set pieces,  propelled though cat and mouse games of deception by Brian Tyler’s memorable score and competent direction from Jon M. Chu.

The Bad

Now You See Me 2 pulls essentially the same tricks as the first film, leading audiences through a series of increasingly implausible CGI enhanced illusion, whilst delivering heavy handed plot twists that are often far  easier for audiences to predict that the film seems to assume. Those left uninspired by the magic of the first film will find little new to change their minds a second time around.

As with many real life magicians, there is an underlying smug quality to all the main characters that inevitably permeates the tone of the film as a whole. The problem is that while in real life acts of skilful slight of hand and ingenuous trickery have the power to truly astound, on screen in a world knowingly built with special effects it’s actually far less impressive.

While the first film climaxed with its biggest magical reveal and a game changing plot twist, this second act struggles at times to make sense of the aftermath. In particular those excited by the possibilities of ‘The Eye’, the secret global society of master magicians using their powers for good introduced in the first film, may feel a little underwhelmed by some of the surprises in store behind that curtain. In fact many of the film’s key plot points seem largely driven by a determined desire to retain the entire cast of the first film. Clearly the filmmakers were reluctant to abandon any familiar faces, just in case that proved to have been the illusive secret of the first films expectation defying success.

In particular it’s hard to imagine a better example of a sequel seeking to give audiences ‘more of the same’, than this film having Woody Harrelson play dual roles as his own identical twin. Needlessly slapping a wig and silly voice on Harrelson to shamelessly double his screen time feels like a pointless distraction, particularly when the film never actual exploits this plot point in any of the obvious ways it could.

Overall the film stretches out the franchises core concept that elaborate stage magic is somehow an essential tool for combating global financial and technological evils, further straining credibility and testing just how much audiences actually like card tricks.

The Ugly Truth

Fans of the first film will welcome a second act the combines the established characters with a bigger budget and more elaborately choreographed set pieces. With another sequel already happening, those less dazzled by the franchise’s slick stage magic will be hoping the franchise finds something a bit better hiding up its sleeve next time.

Review by Russell Nelson


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