World-famous magic act/thieves The Four Horsemen — now with a new member, and under the auspices of über-magician, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) — find themselves up against a formidable enemy, who seems to know their every move...
The problem with magic tricks is they have a natural end. Once the big reveal has taken place, there’s nowhere left to go. And that’s the issue — an unassailable one, as it turns out — at the heart of Now You See Me 2. At the end of the first movie, a charming and surprise sleeper hit, came the big reveal: Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, who had spent the entire movie fruitlessly chasing after flashy magicians-cum-thieves The Four Horsemen, was actually the world’s premier prestidigitator, and had been behind the whole thing all along. It was a neat twist, but it’s clear just a few minutes into this sequel the story should have ended there.
The first movie, directed by Louis Leterrier, was fun and flashy. This one is tepid.
When we meet Rhodes and the Horsemen, 18 months have passed, and so little has happened that the group — Jesse Eisenberg’s illusionist Atlas, Woody Harrelson’s hypnotist Merrit and Dave Franco’s card shark Jack — are bored and at odds with each other. Isla Fisher’s Henley has left the group, to be replaced by fast-talking sleight of hand whizz Lula (Lizzy Caplan, aiming for kooky, and missing). And Rhodes… well, rather than indulging his very particular David Copperfield-y set of skills, he’s still hiding in plain sight among the FBI and brooding about the decades-old death of his dad. At one point, he’s even stranded in a strange sub-plot with Morgan Freeman’s Thaddeus Bradley, the man he blames for his dad’s watery demise. It seems a strange choice to shackle an actor as charismatic as Ruffalo.
The first movie, directed by Louis Leterrier, was fun and flashy. This one, directed by Jon M. Chu, is tepid, even managing to make a lengthy detour in the colourful city of Macau dull. Leterrier is nobody’s idea of a master of magic, but next to Chu, he’s Penn & Teller. The movie is so strangled by an incredibly convoluted plot, including a spectacularly silly retcon, that the easy repartee of the Horsemen from the original is never recaptured. Interesting ideas are introduced, then dropped. Daniel Radcliffe’s bad guy gets a memorable intro, suggesting plenty of quirk and character, then becomes a rather dull villain-by-numbers.
There are moments when the energy surges, such as a sequence where the Horsemen have to work together to conceal a playing card-shaped MacGuffin from the world’s worst security guards. By and large, though, this suffers from a serious case of sequelitis, and a sense that nobody’s heart is really in it. Take, for example, the astonishing case of Woody Harrelson’s dual role. In what seems like a desperate attempt to give him something interesting to do, he also appears as Merrit’s evil twin brother, complete with fake buck teeth, a permed wig, and a flamboyant air that flirts heavily with being an outrageous stereotype. Two minutes after he appears, you’ll be hoping he gets sawn in half. No such luck.
It’s an impressively starry cast, but sadly, this lacks the charm, wit and, yes, magic of the original. You’ll like it, not a lot.