Now You See Me 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Summit Entertainment
Directed by Jon M Chu
I didn’t HATE the first movie, but I wasn’t really a fan of it. While the magic performances as well as that one Dave Franco action scene were a lot of fun, the glue holding everything together was far from compelling and the twist at the end was MONUMENTALLY stupid; not just because it’s… well stupid, but also because of how it completely poisons the idea of repeat viewings as its one of those twists that unravels everything we saw and robs the story of any sort of tension. That said I wasn’t opposed to the idea of a sequel, especially once it was revealed that they got Daniel Radcliffe to be in it! Sure, the twist at the end of the first one kinda ruins THAT movie, but maybe they’ll build off of this one in an interesting and novel way! Does this manage to continue the trend of sequels this year being better than the original, or is this movie trying to pull a fast one on all of us? Let’s find out!! Oh, and we’ll be going into spoilers for the last film, so just a heads up.
After the events of the last movie where the Four Horsemen who are composed of Danny (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Jack (Dave Franco), and Henley (Isla Fisher, or Sir Not Appearing In This Film) fulfilled the mission given to them by The Eye, they are now members of the secret organization under the watchful… well EYE, of Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who was the FBI agent chasing them throughout the first one; the big twist of that film being that he was in on it the entire time! MAGIC SHOCK! So after robbing Insurance Mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) of his fortune and getting Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to take the fall for it, the Horsemen have spent the last year in hiding; waiting around for a sequel… I mean mission, from The Eye. Henley gave up after a while and went off to do her own thing (what exactly that is, I’m not sure considering she’s still wanted… I think) and Daniel is about to do the same if they aren’t given something to do, or at least get a chance to MEET this organization they’re supposedly working for with their only connection to them being Agent Rhodes. The day FINALLY comes though as they get a new member Lula (Lizzy Caplan) to join The Horsemen and they plan to crash a part announcing the release of the next iPhone knockoff which supposedly has a chip in it that will steal ALL the users’ data so they can sell it. I don’t know why this is a job for The Horsemen considering that shit would get discovered and jailbroken within fifteen minutes of its release, but whatever. The plan doesn’t go as… well planned, as their party crashing is interrupted by ANOTHER party crasher who reveals that Jack is STILL alive (he was presumed dead after the events of the last film) and that Agent Rhodes is actually working with them! Not only that, but during The Horsemen’s escape, they somehow find themselves ALL the way in China where some sniveling jackass named Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) reveals that he’s the one behind all of this and will get The Horsemen out of trouble (apparently he can do that) if they do a heist for him. While all this is going on, Agent Rhodes is still in the US trying to evade law enforcement and is trying to piece everything together as to whom else could have been in on this plot against them, and his focus invariably shifts right to Thaddeus Bradley who is loving every moment of this. Will The Horsemen be able to steal what Walter wants them to, and can he be trusted to keep up his end of the bargain? How exactly will Agent Rhodes manage to get the truth out of Thaddeus about his involvement in all of this, and does this have anything to do with his past? Look over there! Now here! Was THIS your card!?
I liked this movie just fine, and I think it might be better than the first one. While the pretty lazy plot twist from the last one where Mark Ruffalo was in on it the whole time is pretty much the core emotional hook of this sequel, they make it work better than I thought they would as this is now the B-Team Avengers where the group is working together to stop a common enemy and there isn’t some dangling shoe over the story to undercut the events happening on screen. There are plot twists here and some of them ARE pretty unbelievable (one in particular feels like something they’re now PRETENDING was set up in the last movie but was clearly thought of for this one) but none of them are as revelatory as the one from the last movie and frankly this film kind of embraces the absurdity of it all. Like so many of the sequels that we’ve gotten this year, this one manages to outdo (or at least meets) the quality of the last one by focusing in on its strengths and letting the silliness of everything come to the forefront. This is a movie where they have Woody Harrelson acting against himself as his own twin brother with a really bad perm. Silliness is this movie’s bread and butter.
What works in here is the chemistry between all the leads and the elaborately staged set pieces throughout that focus on misdirection and complicated maneuvers; the highlight being a sequence where the Horsemen have to sneak the super computer chip out of the facility it’s stored in, and it JUST SO HAPPENS to be the perfect size and shape to stick onto a playing card. Sure, the movie is all but implying that they have superpowers considering how well they can hid this card from the security guards searching them (flipping it over their hands, passing it through their clothes, tossing it to one another) but the scene is so brilliantly executed on all levels that it works, and it’s not like they were setting up a realistic tone up until this point. I’m honestly curious where lese this series can go if they do manage to wring out at least one more sequel from this franchise. The only direction would be up I guess as they’d really have to go the Fast and Furious route with the next one. Hell, they’ pretty much spies in this one already!
All the returning characters do well in their roles with Woody Harrelson being the standout here (especially considering he has two roles to play) and I think Daniel Radcliffe does fine here as the new villain. He’s honestly probably too good for the role here as it’s one dimension shy of being one dimensional, but you can never say he doesn’t put his heart into every role he takes. This is a guy who RELALY needs to get his Oscar winning performance under his belt before he gets stuck doing stuff like this for the rest of his career. Don’t get me wrong; the Nicolas Cage route is an entertaining road to watch an actor fall into, but at least he GOT his Oscar before sliding into abject insanity and ham. Daniel Radcliffe AT LEAST needs a bit more time to prove he’s not only an amazing actor but knows how to pick roles that suit him well and while this movie is BETTER because of him, it’s not something I would put on his list of standout performances. Speaking of the new people in this, I was skeptical about Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher as the “female horseman” (Horse Lady I guess) but she does fine in the role. I’m a TAD annoyed with the explanation as to why Isla Fisher’s character is no longer in the movie as it’s a pretty weak exit for her (they couldn’t think of ANYTHING interesting to explain her departure?) but thankfully Lizzy Caplan isn’t as big of a copy paste replacement as you’d expect from the trailers and manages to stand out in her role.
Now as much as I did enjoy this movie (especially when compared to the first one) there are some lazy aspects of this that just bugged the hell out of me and is ultimately why this is merely an entertaining movie instead of a great one. There are only a couple of fight scenes in here, but they suffer from the same problem that EVERY DAMN MOVIE seems to run into when filming action. SING IT WITH ME NOW! CLOSE UPS! QUICK CUTS! SHAKY CAM!! It’s a shame considering how well they handle the cinematography in all the other scenes yet in this one place it falls woefully short. Fortunately it’s compensated at least a little bit by solid staging; especially this one fight where Mark Ruffalo manages to incorporate magic tricks into his big fight scene. It’s amazing… when you can see it clearly.
The plot as well is pretty damn flimsy. Pro tip for screenwriters; if you’re movie is ALL about misdirection and subterfuge, yet you SINCERELY include a computer chip that can hack EVERY COMPUTER ON THE PLANET? Yeah… you just lost about all your clever points. There’s no god damn thing as a computer chip that can hack the planet (wouldn’t it be a program anyway?) so I never actually bought it in the film and was waiting for that shoe to drop at some point, but it never did and it just left things feeling kind of awkward by the end of the movie. It’s like the screenwriter didn’t even know the implications of what they were writing about and so it manages not to have the kind of gravitas it needs to be a credible threat, nor is the rug pulled out from under us at some point as something that obviously fake couldn’t even exist. Sherlock managed to pull this off beautifully in The Reichenbach Fall, which only highlights how dumb this MacGuffin is in this movie. On top of that, I thought that Mark Ruffalo’s subplot with Morgan Freeman was padding and he wasn’t interesting at all until he finally got to China to meet up with the others. Morgan Freeman doesn’t fare much better here either as his presence throughout feels perfunctory at best and the ending “twist” as it were for his character doesn’t really add much to the movie and feels like a weak justification for even having the dude come back for the sequel.
Once again, we have a sequel that does better than its predecessor, but this is on the low end of that spectrum. It’s definitely better but not by a whole lot, and what it’s improving on wasn’t all that great to begin with. That said, I am interested in seeing what they do with the sequel to this which has ALREADY been green lit as it seems they’re moving in the right direction. Maybe the third one will finally get the formula to click and will shed a lot of the flaws that have been cropping up over two films now which will certainly be enough to turn this series into something truly amazing. It’s probably worth checking out (definitely more so than Warcraft and INFINITY better than the director’s last film) but they still have a ways to go for this diamond in the rough to shine.
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