Now You See Me was a fun caper film centering on the Robin Hood-like antics of four magicians collectively known as the Four Horsemen who use their skills to get steal millions from corrupt businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) with the final reveal being that the Horsemen – actually three men (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) and a lady (Isla Fisher) – were being recruited into a secret order of magicians known as The Eye. Now a year later, the Horsemen are back, though minus Fischer’s character who parted company with the group between films. After the Horsemen’s attempt to discredit the launch of a powerful tech firm’s new product that would violate the privacy of its users backfires, the group finds itself in Macao being blackmailed into helping a maverick tech genius recover an innovative new type of computer chip that he claims was stolen by his former partner now turned rival. Dodging law enforcement and various presences from their past out for revenge, the Horseman have to prove their innocence and expose the person who framed them.
Now You See Me 2 is an unfortunately inconsistent film, the blame for which can all be set on director Jon M. Chu’s shoulders. There are some sequences that are remarkably well staged. The sequence where the group steals the McGuffin microchip and then proceed to pass it among themselves right under the noses of a group of security guards is well done, displaying a rhythm and pacing that clearly hearkens back to Chu’s work on two entries in the Step Up dance movie franchise. But that skill seems lost in other action sequences, especially the muddled mess that is a fight in a Macau marketplace. And there are some moments of downright sloppy film-making with random lines of exposition seemingly missing, characters suddenly appearing in scenes and a sound mix that occasionally threatens to drown out the dialogue. It is as if Chu has no interest in the mechanics of the storytelling needed to propel the film to the next set piece he is interested in.
And it is not just the film-making itself that is inconsistent, but the world-building that the film attempts here. There is a vital plot point about an object from Dylan’s past that flies in the face of what was established in the first film that will stand out like a sore thumb if you have recently watched or have a good memory for the original film.
That’s not to say that the film is not without its share of smart moments and surprisingly also shows signs of self-awareness. Knowing what the audience is probably anticipating about Lizzy Caplan’s character coming into the Horsemen replacing the non-returning Fisher, the script gives her a joke to make about upsetting the group’s dynamic. Another point sees Eisenberg’s character explaining a trick to the crowd, perhaps in a way preempting a return of the last film’s criticism that some of the feats of illusion shown could have only been achieved through the magic of computer generated imagery rather than through any real world legerdemain.
Interestingly enough, with certain reveals made through the movie, it looks as if the second film is trying to position the franchise into a riff on Mission: Impossible but with its heroes using skills from sleight of hand to large scale illusion to accomplish their goals. It’s a fun idea and hopefully we’ll see it fleshed out more in the already being written third installment.
Ultimately, I think I like Now You See Me 2 a bit more than the film deserves. The main performances are for the most part fun, especially Daniel Radcliff playing against his Harry Potter image. The film gallops along at a dizzying rate that you don’t really notice most of the flaws in its film-making and serpentine plotting until later. And that bit of misdirection is perhaps the movie’s best magic trick.