The original Now You See Me from 2013 was a pretty ambitious movie, one that made the bold choice of not even adapting any source material to go with its large scale, and yet, it became a considerable surprise hit for studio, Summit Entertainment. Despite not originally planning one, the success of Now You See Me then spurred Summit to make a follow-up movie, so thus, we now have Now You See Me 2. There’s very little to say about it.
To be specific, Now You See Me 2 is certainly not a bad movie. It has moments of cheeky entertainment and impressive spectacle, just like its guilty pleasure-friendly predecessor did. What’s missing however is a sense of justification and inspiration. Now You See Me 2 is competent, but it’s missing something. It’s missing something because it’s a sequel that the studio didn’t pay any mind to until its predecessor made money, and that’s sometimes all too evident in this follow-up.
If you enjoyed the original Now You See Me, or simply have a taste for illusionist-themed entertainment, Now You See Me 2 is entertaining enough to rent when it reaches home viewing, but it’s probably not worth the trip to theatres. There’s just too many more noteworthy Summer movie spectacles that are probably far more worth your cinematic dollars.
The leads from the previous movie, the team of altruistic thieving magicians, the Four Horsemen, are back, mostly, sans Henley anyway. Due to actress, Isla Fisher being pregnant at the time of the movie’s filming schedule, she was unable to reprise her role for the sequel, thus leaving Henley’s character to be replaced by an all-new character, Lula, played by Lizzy Caplan. There is a brief sentence addressing what exactly happened to Henley, but it’s a hurried explanation, and beyond that, the sequel pretty much just forgets about her. It’s difficult to dwell on that though, since Caplan is actually a pretty great new addition to the sequel, having an upbeat, unpredictable character that fits very well into the cast, and, despite not even being present in the first movie, she’s arguably the most appealing element of the Four Horsemen crew at this point!
Fortunately, for better or for worse, most of the first movie’s leads are back, with a couple of new faces beyond Caplan. The original crew of Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas, Woody Harrelson as Merritt McKinney and Dave Franco as Jack Wilder all return for this sequel, and all more or less play the exact same personalities that they did before, which is to say, disposable fun personalities. Once again, Mark Ruffalo stands a cut above them as Dylan Rhodes, now outed as the true leader of the Four Horsemen after the events of the first movie, and the key force that’s keeping them out of the grasp of the authorities as they prepare their big return. This sequel actually attempts a very personal connection to Rhodes, and that’s another reason why Ruffalo yet again becomes one of the more memorable personalities in this follow-up storyline, especially since his character has entirely changed now.
Morgan Freeman also returns as disgruntled former magician and magic debunker, Thaddeus Bradley, who is now in prison after the events of the first movie. Thaddeus is placed into the sequel in a fairly clever way, though he largely exists as a plot device more often than not. When it comes to being an antagonist, the role is more largely filled by Daniel Radcliffe, who mostly feels like he was cast as a subtle in-joke, referencing his breakout turn as Harry Potter in Warner Bros.’ wizard movie saga. Radcliffe plays Walter Mabry, a rich technology wunderkind who claims to have been financially harmed by the actions of the Four Horsemen in the past, and is now forcing them to do a job for him. Radcliffe is very enjoyable, and has a nicely sniveling energy as the antagonist that always seems to be two steps ahead, at least at first, but his character is probably one of the most impractical of the bunch, despite most of this movie’s cast being comprised of super-magicians that seem to be pulling off genuinely impossible feats.
Even then though, the most questionable character decision in the movie is that of the other villain, Chase McKinney, the twin brother of Merritt, who is also played by Woody Harrelson. Chase serves literally no purpose in the storyline. He simply only exists to provide a reasonably sneaky, but mostly slow-minded counterpart to Merritt, or even to Walter. This just feels like an odd, out-of-nowhere character decision, and frankly, Chase probably shouldn’t have even been in this movie.
When it comes down to it though, you’re getting most of the same simple-minded fun as the previous Now You See Me. That means that the characters are pretty flat, and provide straightforward, cheeky entertainment. If that’s all you’re looking for, then great, and at least Ruffalo’s character does occasionally flirt with a greater sense of personal depth, on the bright side. Mostly though, if you were hoping that Now You See Me 2’s personalities would become a bit less disposable, that demand won’t be satisfied.
Now You See Me 2 has a fairly interesting idea behind it. The whole premise springs from the Four Horsemen being tripped up during their big comeback heist performance by our new villain, Walter Mabry, who essentially forces them to do a job for him to make up for money that they cost him, under pain of death. This means another twist-filled plot surrounding magicians trying to get one over on one another, as the forces looming underneath the big conspiracy also continue to stir.
There’s a reasonably entertaining storyline surrounding Now You See Me 2, which manages the requisite number of thrills and surprises, but most of the movie is sadly very forgettable. For all of its grand gestures towards being a sweeping journey of illusion and intrigue, this sequel operates like a magician who is unaware that you already know the secret behind his greatest trick. There’s still fun to appreciate, but the novelty just isn’t there, especially when the movie’s final result pretty much lands exactly where you think it will, even if some of the smaller parts of that journey still manage to provide some minute thrills.
The original movie’s director, Louis Leterrier doesn’t return for Now You See Me 2, instead being replaced by Step Up 3D and G.I. Joe: Retaliation director, Jon M. Chu. Like I said, Chu does manage to replicate at least some of the dazzling, glitzy presentation that Leterrier did so well in the previous movie, but there’s no denying that his sequel does feel a bit more workmanlike. There’s handfuls of appropriate spectacle, but the same sense of energy isn’t perfectly replicated. That’s on top of instances of weird editing and blatant CGI trickery, which make the directing job behind Now You See Me 2 definitely not feel as airtight as that of its predecessor.
Fortunately, Chu still does put together a handful of really impressive scenes, with a big highlight being a heist-heavy moment where the Four Horsemen have to pass something around continually while being searched by a security team in a secluded, heavily monitored area. It’s really too bad that the movie couldn’t have managed more moments like this, instead settling for so many oddly low-key, CGI-fueled tricks, which makes the second act in this inevitable trilogy feel like it lacks the same spark as the enjoyable opener from 2013.
Now You See Me 2 makes par in terms of following up its surprise hit predecessor, but it’s also a lot more disposable and forgettable. There’s fun and entertainment in this package, but not quite as much as before. It’s evident that the studio and the filmmakers are sometimes struggling to find the proper justification for this follow-up, and yet, even before this movie was out, Summit was all too happy to announce that Now You See Me 3 would follow it in a couple of years. Of course.
Like I said, if you’re already fond of the original Now You See Me, then Now You See Me 2 is more of the same, and will keep you entertained, even if it’s a lesser batch of said entertainment. You could just as easily wait to rent it at home though, where its disposable nature will feel more appropriate than a full-blown trip to the theatre. Still, I suppose it could be worse. The idea of Now You See Me 3 doesn’t seem like a terrible prospect after this follow-up. It might do well to bring a bit more showmanship to the stage though.
- Lizzy Caplan is a fun new addition to the cast
- Daniel Radcliffe's villain is pretty enjoyable
- Manages some great scenes here and there, especially the pass-around security scene
- More predictable and less inspired than its predecessor
- Direction is less spectacular and more choppy
- Who thought the goofy Woody Harrelson twin was a good idea?