At their best, movies can be wonderful escapes into worlds outside of our own, where, for two hours, we can put real problems aside and exist in a kind of suspended animation. For those hours spent in a darkened room, surrounded by strangers, we’re united by the trials and tribulations of heroes and heroines who can, usually, solve problems we can’t outside of this fantasy space. We come together to laugh, to cry, to celebrate a victory or mourn a loss. It doesn’t matter if the endings are happy or not, just that we experience them together. That’s what makes movies unique—they are explicitly a communal experience. We know we’re not necessarily safe in these darkened rooms, but we still go to the movies. Because they transport us when we need to be transported.
I wish I was reporting back on something a little more transporting than Now You See Me 2, but here we are. As a slightly too-long piece of distracting fluff, it’s passable. Not especially good or memorable, but for two hours and ten minutes it will, at least, take your mind off things. And the presence of actual human sunbeam Mark Ruffalo doesn’t hurt. Everyone else looks varying degrees of bored or annoyed to be there, but Ruffalo, and franchise newcomer Lizzy Caplan, are trying to give us that transporting experience.
Now You See Me 2 picks up either a year, eighteen months, or two years after the events of the first movie, depending on which character is talking. The sense of time in this movie is totally f*cked, so this may have been a slightly obtuse way of communicating the passage of time, or else just sloppy writing. Since it’s never clear by any other clue how much time lapses throughout the movie, it’s impossible to know. This movie exists in Schrödinger’s box.
We find that FBI agent/secret magician Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) has gone back to his law enforcement gig while the street magicians turned thieves known as the Four Horsemen are lying low. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, openly annoyed) is getting antsy and wants to resume his life as a famous magician-thief, and thinks Dylan is holding them back, which makes him the only one of the Horsemen to have something approaching an interesting subplot. Unfortunately, the movie is not interested in actually upending character dynamics, so that doesn’t really go anywhere.
We’re also introduced to Lula (Caplan), the new “Lady Horseman”, because Isla Fisher had the sense not to be in this movie. In one of the movie’s only really fun bits, Lula specializes in gory stunts like fake amputations, so we get a few scenes of Caplan gleefully tossing around severed limbs and dead dove heads. She really does seem to be having a good time, and the movie picks up considerably when she’s on screen.
John M. Chu (Step Up 2: The Streets) takes over directing duties from Louis Leterrier, and his background with dance movies makes him well suited to the highly choreographed nature of heist scenes. I like the look of this movie a lot more than #1, and the card-shark heist in the middle of the movie actually manages to create some tension, and the final trick—excuse me, ILLUSION— is a letdown in comparison. It’s more of a con than a heist, really, and the movie is at its (relative) best when it’s staging heists.
One thing that drives me crazy about these movies is that they refuse to decide whether or not magic is real in this universe. The mysterious magician consortium “The Eye” is a more central concept here, but the idea that The Eye might be capable of real magic remains on the back-burner. Daniel Radcliffe turns up
to collect a paycheck as the villain and he sets up a “science vs. magic” cage match that never develops.
The Horsemen stick to practical magic—no, not this kind, sadly—and the “science vs. magic” thing is dropped after DanRad’s introductory monologue. That’s too bad—that could have been an interesting conflict for the movie, more interesting than the standard revenge plot in play, and would have given Jay Chou more to do as magic shop proprietor Li. Chou is WAY too talented to be sidelined like he is in this movie—he ought to be a main cast member in Now You See Me 3 (which has already been greenlit). For the six of you who like Now You See Me, #2 offers more of the same so you ought to like the sequel. For everyone else, it’s barely passable but it will do in a pinch, if you really need to check out for a couple hours.
Attached - The cast of Now You See Me 2 at the New York premiere last week.