If you’re looking for the greatest deception of Now You See Me 2, you won’t find it in the plot but on the movie poster. Listed among the cast are Hollywood veterans Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson and cult hero Daniel Radcliffe, not to mention another two or three A-graders. But an all-star cast does not a good film make. Like its predecessor, Jon M. Chu’s NYSM2 lets down its actors and audience with a heist film that tries to be too smart for its own good.
The original Now You See Me came out three years ago, and you could be forgiven for only remembering a few larger-than-life magical set pieces. Within minutes of NYSM2’s opening, however, we are reminded of everything the original film did wrong. We recall that the circus troupe of Merritt (Harrelson), Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Jack (Dave Franco), and newly inducted Lula (Lizzy Caplan) are members of the archaically-named “Four Horseman”, who are monitored by The Eye – a culty body responsible for giving instructions to the Horsemen. We’re then reunited with our old mates Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) and FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who take more than their fair share of screen time with a laboured plot about Rhodes’s magician father. Such was the volume of double plays and deceptions found in the original that it takes a few scenes to remember how this plethora of jigsaw piece characters fit into the big picture.
The sequel is at its most entertaining when the Horseman are at play, pulling shenanigans across the United States, Macau and London. The medium of cinema and special effects dilutes the façade of illusions, but the sleight-of-hand acrobatics of the quartet nevertheless outshine the convoluted subplots.
With that said, their magic tricks are often over-the-top in complexity, matched only by heavy-handed exposition. Compared to suave “Aha” explanatory scenes of the Ocean’s Eleven remakes – probably the benchmark in the genre – the uneven reveals of NYSM2 leave you feeling unsatisfied and dumb.
Similarly, the plot twists with which the franchise takes so much pride feel like desperate afterthoughts. Keen to replicate the twists that characterised the original, NYSM2 indulges in plot surprises as frequently as Eurovision key changes. By the film’s end, it’s difficult to track who is sided with whom, and which characters have been sabotaging their own team’s plans and for what purpose.
NYSM2 even attempts to punch above its weight at a political level. Rather than just accepting NYSM2 as a fun hide-and-seek thriller, Chu elects to fires hollow shots at vague targets. The idea that the magic of the Horsemen can be combatted with Walter Mabry’s (Radcliffe) scientific breakthroughs has potential, but is bandied about too inconsistently to be compelling. Similarly, the anti-capitalistic stance that motivates the Four Horseman is a tacky addition, coming across more like a public party trick than a deep-seated ideology.
Besides an impressive opening, new ‘Horseman’ Lula is given little more than faux-feminist “Girls can drive motorcycles too” dialogue. And while Radcliffe is an inspired choice for off-centre villain, he is too much of a caricature to be feared. As for Freeman and Caine, this is nothing more than a late-career paycheck. The thought that these big names could improve such a flimsy film is cute, but if they manage to trick audiences into buying tickets, perhaps they’ve done their job.
Now You See Me 2 is in cinemas from 2nd June through Entertainment One.