Movie Review: Now You See Me 2

Thriller about do-gooding magicians is more confounding than magical

Now You See Me 2 (Podfukáři 2)
Directed by Jon M. Chu
With Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Stage magic works for a simple reason: it is on stage. The audience can see in real time what happens, and be left wondering why the outcome is not what was expected.

In a film, magic is much less impressive. Any bit of magic, no matter how complicated, can be dismissed as a just camera tricks. And with the current state of computer effects, even a scene with no edits is suspect.

Now You See Me 2 depends heavily on elaborate stage tricks performed by a group of people known as the Four Horsemen and their rivals. To make things more complicated, there is a secret organization called the Eye, some sort of stage-magic cult. The Horsemen are in contact with the the Eye, but don't know exactly who they are.

In the first film, the Four Horsemen become folk heroes for getting revenge on a corrupt insurance company.

In the sequel, the Horsemen are still being sought by the FBI, since even though they were well-meaning their actions were illegal.

The plot of the sequel is rather convoluted and has something to do with a computer chip that mustn't fall into the wrong hands. Filmmmakers call this a McGuffin. It could be anything, from a dog bone to a nuclear bomb. All that matters is that everyone in the film has to be chasing after it.

The cast is likable enough, but if you can't suspend your disbelief enough to be wowed by the computer simulated stage magic, then the film is a noisy crashing bore.

The soundtrack writer, Brian Tyler, takes the side that the magic is simply stunning, and turns the orchestra up to 11 every time a card trick or sleight-of-hand effect works. It gets as annoying as a singer who keeps demanding a big round of applause for every little thing he does on stage.

A gamble the filmmakers took was also counterproductive.

Woody Harrelson is back from the original film as Merritt McKinney, one of the Horseman from the original film. This time he has an evil twin: Chase McKinney, also played by Woody Harrelson. He is superimposed into scenes so he can be both characters. This just re-emphasizes that we are seeing camera tricks and not real stage magic.

Jesse Eisenberg reprises his role as Danny Atlas, allegedly the leader of the group but perhaps the least charismatic and most broody of the bunch. Dave Franco again plays Jack Wilder. He tries at the charisma, but comes off as one of those annoying people who thinks a bit too much of themselves.

The last of the returning good guys is Mark Ruffalo as FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes. He has a rather pivotal role. Much of his motivation comes from his father, also a magician, having died in an escape trick gone wrong decades earlier. Facing up to his legacy is a key theme of the murky and convoluted plot.

Newcomer Lizzy Caplan as Lula May rounds out the Horseman. The female magician from the first film, Isla Fisher, was unavailable for the sequel.

Films are as good as their villains. Michael Caine has unfortunately too few scenes as insurance magnate Arthur Tressler. He was in the original, but this time is joined by his illegitimate son. Daniel Radcliffe plays Walter Mabry, who is the one behind the plan to steal the chip. Radcliffe shows he can do more than just Harry Potter films, as is suitable evil for the role of a spoiled bratty genius.

Somewhere in the middle is Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley, in jail from the previous film. He lends some credence to the plot, as anything Freeman says is pretty much believable. The internet has proven this, with his picture next to any quote being takes as fact and quickly reposted.

If the plot is hard to buy, at least there are some good locations. Macau, the gambling center of China, comes into play for a lot of the film. Apparently there is a good magic shop there. Later the action moves to London for some scenes of street magic.

The cast is sincere enough and the action well-staged, but it is not enough to pull this rabbit out of the hat for a second time. The plot is just too mixed up for the audience to care about the chip, and the magic isn't magical enough.

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