A dumb franchise builds (slightly) on its predecessor
Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Now You See Me 2
Opens June 9, wide
A sequel to the surprise 2013 hit, Now You See Me 2 is the kind of movie that wants to avoid the original’s conspicuous mistakes. Good luck with that — this sequel ends up falling into the same pits of poo.
The first NYSM (directed by oft-terrible Louis Leterrier) was implausible and convoluted, but also inconsistent, with the cheapest twist in the history of the post-Shyamalan cinematic era: the dodged, Columbo-esque FBI detective Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) was on the magicians’ side all along! This makes no sense, even when I watched the movie a second time. It felt like the creative team had painted itself into a corner and was forced to could only think of stupid ways to solve their script problems. If this is what they settled on, god knows what even dumber ideas they rejected.
Moving on… set 18 months after the events of the first movie, Rhodes is the de facto leader of The Horsemen (the illusionists’ nom de magic), while still preserving his FBI job. Forced to go underground after stealing millions and giving it to the 99 per cent, the magicians are itching to provide more social justice sleight-of-hand. The opportunity comes in the form of an all-powerful chip able to absorb every bit of data from your electronic devices. Because this is a movie about illusionists, the McGuffin is the size and width of a playing card.
The first third of the film is actually so much fun, and it goes by so quickly it gives the impression NYSM2 could overcome the issues that plagued the previous chapter. Not so. From the moment the first heist ends, the movie goes down a rabbit hole of intricacies no one will understand (or care about). The illusions are a hoot, the problem is everything in between.
One has to wonder if the producers of NYSM2 had to make some concessions to bring back a cast filled to the brim with A-listers. Woody Harrelson’s character, mentalist Merrit McKinney, gets an evil twin brother to play with. Ruffalo, known for his progressive politics, delivers an anti-corporate speech more poignant than your average statement of principles. Not everybody from the original could be coerced to return: Isla Fisher is given an out and replaced by a more than competent (and the brightest spot of the film) Lizzy Caplan.
With expanded roles for Harrelson and Ruffalo and a new villain to contend with (an unexpectedly menacing Daniel Radcliffe), somebody’s screen time has to suffer. In this case, the theoretical headliner, Jesse Eisenberg. The once-likeable actor isn’t given much to work with (his sole motivation is becoming the leader of the Horsemen) and outside one showcase sequence, he sulks a lot.
At least he fares better than Jay Chou (The Green Hornet), the Taiwanese superstar who, here, minds a magic shop and does little else. Outside catering the Chinese market, that is.
The greatest improvement over the first movie is owning up to how disposable this franchise is. Director Jon M. Chu (responsible of the passably entertaining Step Up 2 and the godawful G.I. Joe: Retribution) knows a thing or two about visual candy and delivers in spades. Two of the Horsemen’s performances are eye popping, so much so the main number is a letdown.
There isn’t much room for logic in Now You See Me 2. Both heroes and villains do their best to make simple tasks insanely complicated. In one particular scene, everybody struggles to locate the Horsemen when all you’d need to do is to find a place that sells ridiculously powerful limelights.