If the idea of a sequel to the illusionist action comedy “Now You See Me” is shocking, look no further than the box office numbers. The original film grossed four times as much as it cost, and probably would have netted even more if they hadn’t stacked the movie with so much high-priced talent. For the sequel, “Now You See Me 2” (that they didn’t call the film “Now You Don’t” seems like a missed opportunity), they went for a flashier direction style, which suits the story well. At its core, it’s a heist movie, so appropriating from the “Ocean’s” films is to be expected.
One year after the events of the first film, the master illusionists The Horsemen are still lying low, waiting for instructions from the secret organization of magicians who call themselves The Eye. Their handler, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), finally gives them a target: tech guru Owen Case (Ben Lamb), who has invented a mobile phone chip that steals customers’ personal information in order to sell it to the highest bidder. The Horsemen, who are now folk heroes and wanted men (and woman), crash Case’s launch party with the intention of exposing him, but they get the tables turned on them by Case’s former partner Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who abducts the Horsemen and forces them to steal the chip before a slew of black market goons intend to. Rhodes and the Horsemen are completely stuck, but they receive help from an unlikely source.
It is so nice to see that Jesse Eisenberg has recovered from whatever chemical imbalance/hypnotic spell/caffeine overdose led him to give the worst performance of his life in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” He’s not extraordinary here, but no one is – it’s not that kind of movie, and that is why they cast the aforementioned high-priced talent. Get the right people to just read the lines, and everything else will fall into place. And that’s exactly what happens.
For the most part, anyway. There are some shots where director Jon M. Chu (best known for the “Step Up” sequels, but also responsible for last year’s much-reviled “Jem and the Holograms”) lingers a little too long, either with a shot or with a line, leading the audience more than he should. For the most part, though, he’s an ideal choice for the film. He can direct with energy (witness the ‘steal the chip’ sequence, as well as the finale), and the actors all turn in good work, particularly newcomers Lizzy Caplan as Lula, the token female Horseman (yes, there are jokes about that), and Radcliffe as Mabry. After playing The Boy Who Lived for over a decade, Radcliffe is practically jumping out of his socks to show the world what else he can do. It’s inspired casting, on multiple levels.
There is one exception to the casting of new characters, but we cannot discuss it without revealing a spoiler. It probably sounded a lot funnier and more plausible during the table reads than it turned out in execution. There is also the matter of the Big Finish completely ignoring the laws of physics, which is odd, considering the script’s repeated touting of science.
“Now You See Me 2” seems fully aware of its place in the universe, and that’s a good thing. Where the first film used the magic tricks as a hook in the first act, this one saves the really good stuff for the third act while stuffing the first act with a healthy dose of comedy (Caplan’s first scene is a doozy), and isn’t afraid to get a little dark in between. And just like that, what seemed like a one-off movie about magicians has wisely positioned itself as the next “Ocean’s” franchise. Well played.(3 / 5)
This review originally ran June 9, 2016 on Bullz-Eye.com.