A film review by Craig J. Koban June 24, 2016


2016, PG-13, 127 mins.


Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes  /  Woody Harrelson as Merritt McKinney  /  Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas  /  Dave Franco as Jack Wilder  /  Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley  /  Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler  /  Lizzy Caplan as Lula  /  Daniel Radcliffe as Walter  /  Jay Chou as Li

Directed by Jon M. Chu  /  Written by Ed Solomon

It could be aptly argued that most movie sequels are redundant and unnecessary, outside of padding already deeply padded studio coffers with potentially big box office receipts.  That much is clear.  

However, in the pursuit of financial dominance many sequels can do a good job of expanding upon the core ideas, storylines, and character dynamics of their predecessor.  They make a solid claim for their very existence.  NOW YOU SEE ME 2 is simply not one of those kind of sequels.  The 2013 introductory film was a modest worldwide box office, but one that never bellowed out “follow-up entry,” nor was it, I think, a work that even die hard devotees of it demanded future installments.  There have been many redundant and unnecessary sequels, but NOW YOU SEE ME 2 just may by one of the most pointless and avoidable ones I’ve seen in many a moon. 

I didn’t hate the original, but I left the screening of it never really thinking or caring about it in any meaningful way afterwards.  It was an example of a film that contained an absolutely finely assembled cast of industry veterans (and some newcomers) that are delectably likeable in their own regard, but frankly were saddled with dislikeable characters.  That, and for a film being about magic and the fine art of illusion NOW YOU SEE ME and, to an even greater knee-slappingly hysterical degree, NOW YOU SEE ME 2 don't really seem all that compelled about dealing with any actual magic in the real world.  The last film’s climax relied on tricks so super human and implausible that the only logical explanation for their existence was that the magicians unleashing them belonged in Professor Charles Xavier’s school for the gifted.  This sequel ups the ante of insanely otherworldly magic tricks, so overblown and unrealistic that they completely feel like the product of movie visual effects and not the sneaky dexterity of street magicians.  This criminally robs this series of any type of grounded reality, and since no semblance of grounded reality exists, I simply didn’t feel any relatable tension in the film.  

I just…didn’t…care. 



The Horsemen once again return (albeit with a new team member) and they remain a merry band of con artists and magicians that rebelliously engage in Robin Hood-like theatrics, exposing the crimes of the one per cent to the onlooker disbelief of the remaining 99 per cent.  After the climatic events of the first film (just thinking about it still makes me incredulously shake my head) that involved the team putting tycoon Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) behind bars, the Horseman – comprised of hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), illusionist J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), street magician Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and newcomer Lula (Lizzy Caplan, replacing the pregnant Isla Fisher) – have been forced to go into hiding after being perused by the Feds.  They do have a mole on the inside, though, in CIA agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who was revealed at the end of the last film to be master illusionist in his own right calling many of the shoots for the team…a payoff that still doesn’t work nearly as cleverly as this series thinks it does.  All of the Horsemen are still overseen and ruled over by the mysterious and enigmatic eyes of…The Eye, which remains an unseen entity in their lives. 

The team decides to spring back into action when Dylan receives word that a telecommunications company is about to release a program that’s capable of exploiting and compromising everyone’s personal information.  Despite being high on the CIA’s list of wanted men and women, the Horsemen are miraculously able to infiltrate the launch of this program, but are then – gasp! – double-crossed by another tech guru Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Merritt’s own twin brother (Harrelson), but with an ulterior motive.  Mabry will help secure the team’s freedom from further prosecution for their past crimes if they help him with his own diabolical plan to…uh-huh...rob everyone on the planet of their personal information by using a super secret computer circuit board.  The Horsemen begrudgingly accept and the proverbial plot thickens. 

I have no problem with films that require one to suspend disbelief…that’s what a lion’s share of movies do by default.  Yet, NO YOU SEE ME 2 pathetically asks viewers to hurtle themselves over Grand Canyon sized gulfs of common sense and logic to the point where the entire film becomes more a work of make-believe fantasy instead of a heist-thriller that it wants to be.  The sheer narrative silliness quotient is cranked up to level 11 here, and the sequel’s ludicrous layering of multiple double-crosses between characters, convoluted past and present relationship dynamics, and would-be shocking plot revelations that are never shocking rarely makes the film feel like it’s inhabiting a part of our own recognizable world.  Take, for instance, the manner with which Mabry is able to easily capture the Horsemen (whom are all supposed to be the foremost and most shrewd minded magicians on the planet) and seemingly teleports them from New York to China in what appears to be seconds via a pipeline.  When Mabry reveals the secret behind such a miraculous feat of instantaneous human travel across the globe it inspires more groans and unintentional laughter than genuine amazement. 

Let’s also just consider Radcliffe’s casting here for a second.  The makers here think it’s devilishly sly that we have a very famous movie magician in Harry Potter playing a villain in another movie about – wink-wink!!! – magicians, but Radcliffe carries so much bloody past baggage and is so terribly miscast and frankly unimposing in the role of his rich and entitled baddie that I never once felt that the Horsemen were in any real danger.  Newcomer Lizzy Caplan is, initially speaking, a welcome presence here, seeing as I’ve admired her past work (especially on TV’s MASTERS OF SEX) for years, but she’s obtrusively histrionic and so achingly unaware of how distressed she’s coming off here to secure laughs.  The rest of the cast acclimatizes themselves relatively well again, despite the fact that they’re all playing character types and not fully developed and flashed out people.  Harrelson’s twin brother is an inexcusable irritant in the film, adorned with a horrendously fake looking wig, blindingly bright dentures, and an effeminate lisp that makes him a shrill annoyance and hopelessly unnecessary competent to the story as a whole. 

These bloody films are populated by bona fide Oscar-caliber talent (17 nominations among the cast!), but the script never once affords them any dialogue that’s not of the depressing cookie cutter variety.  Witnessing the great Morgan Freeman phoning it in with such throwaway lines like “seeing is believing” and “there’s always more than what’s on the surface” is sometimes difficult to endure, not to mention that the sight of a visibly bored and exhausted Ruffalo taints the enterprise as a whole (he doesn't feel invested in his character and his performance feels like it was born out of contractual obligation).  The film, like its antecedent, culminates in a third act pitting everyone against each other with one particular illusion so absurdly irrational that it’s like a poster child for the Roger Ebert coined “Idiot Plot Syndrome,” or a film containing a plot or plot development that’s kept in motion primarily because certain key characters are idiots.  The way in which many so-called “brilliant masterminds” are so easily duped in this film’s climax doesn’t require you to suspend disbelief…it requires you to attach it to a rocket and launch it into orbit. 

Enduring NOW YOU SEE ME 2 made me want to immediately rush home and put a copy of THE PRESTIGE into my Blu-ray player and watch it on an endless loop.  That terrific Christopher Nolan film dealt with how actual magic is engineered and how it acted as a catalyst of conflict for its troubled characters.  For a film that’s professing to be about magic, NOW YOU SEE ME 2 is unforgivably lacking in that respect.  It does have one meticulously well crafted sequence involving a tense game of hide and seek with a highly valuable playing card that seems to rely on semi-plausible misdirected trickery, but the rest of the film built around that stellar sequence is pure nonsensical hooey.  The rogue personas in this film are more like dark arts inspired sorcerers than rogue magicians, which constantly kept me at a distance.  When all is said and done, there’s simply very little up this film’s sleeve. 


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