Review: Now You See Me 2: The Second Act

Set some time after the events of the first film, the magician troupe The Four Horsemen are now just three (Jesse Eisenberg, pickpocket Dave Franco, and mesmerist Woody Harrelson) after Isla Fisher and her character declined to return. They have pretty much kept a very low-profile, but when a return performance (designed to expose a tech magnate for the personal data thief he really is) goes awry and the Horsemen’s handler (FBI agent Mark Ruffalo) is exposed instead, they are forced to go on the run. Their escape doesn’t go according to plan- at least not their own plan, as they somehow emerge in Macau, sans Ruffalo, who has his own shit to deal with among his clearly pissed colleagues (including Sanaa Lathan and David Warshofsky). The Horsemen confronted by Harrelson’s shonky, estranged twin brother. Said twin brother and his goons take the Horsemen (and spunky new recruit Lizzy Caplan) to reclusive tech tycoon Daniel Radcliffe, who has a score to settle with the tech magnate (his former business partner) from the beginning of the film. He needs the Horsemen to retrieve the data-thievery device, and very reluctantly they agree. Well, they don’t really have a choice, but Radcliffe does agree to clear their names after the job is done. Morgan Freeman returns as a noted sceptic whom Ruffalo continues to have a deep, personal grudge against. Since he got screwed over last time, Freeman’s the one with a grudge this time out. Sir Michael Caine briefly reprises his role as the rich bastard businessman who plays a fairly predictable role in things here. Jay Chou and Tsai Chin (whom you may not have seen in years) are nice to see as a pair of Macau magic shop owners the Horsemen rely on for supplies.

Perhaps in the minority, I really enjoyed the first film, as I kept finding what I thought were logic/plot holes only to turn around and not have a problem after all. The film kept managing to work no matter how much I feared it was heading into impossibility. That’s not to say the film wasn’t silly or improbable, just not too silly or too improbable that it was obviously impossible (aside from the use of CGI at times, of course). Basically, I bought what it was selling. It was the damndest movie, and I was certain that there was no way this 2016 sequel from director Jon M. Chu (The OK “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”) and screenwriter Ed Solomon (co-writer of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “Men in Black” and “Now You See Me”) would be able to live up to the original. I was right this time, in that this is indeed a lesser film. However, it’s actually still an entertaining watch, and once again I spent a lot of the film worrying that it’d go off the rails and it didn’t particularly fail me. Sure, it didn’t hold up to the standard of the original, but indeed it did still manage to work rather enjoyably nonetheless. I can’t say I’m especially optimistic about a third film though. Please don’t push your luck, guys (Sadly, a third one is indeed in the works).

Although Chu isn’t as flashy a director as Louis Letterier before him, he still directs this with some snap and panache. It’s cool, and the music score by Brian Tyler (“Frailty”, “The Expendables 3”, “Fast & Furious 7”) is really exciting, too. The cast meanwhile, really do play like a well-oiled machine for the most part. This time around Isla Fisher has been dropped in favour of a new character played by Lizzy Caplan, and for me it’s a significant upgrade. Fisher was woefully miscast as a stage magician, whilst Caplan immediately steals scenes with a lively, energetic performance. She’s got ‘it’ in spades, even in the terrible “Cloverfield” and “The Interview” I thought she was a standout. She’s just not particularly good at choosing scripts, I suppose. This is the exception as this for me is a star-making turn for her, and she amazingly manages to be both cool and super annoying. I don’t know how, it’s just true. Our other protagonists (Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson) are all solid as ever, though Harrelson doesn’t steal this film like last time despite also playing his character’s estranged, and stupidly dishonest brother. They work well as a unit, which is what really matters I guess.

I thought it was a smart idea to basically have Ruffalo’s character exposed in the first quarter so that the film doesn’t become a re-tread of the first film. Now there’s a new danger for them to face. Like last time, it’s pretty impressive watching the film twist and turn, even if it’s not quite as enjoyable as last time. Yes, some of the twists here are predictable (one big one from very early on), but with so many of them, some still manage to surprise. Perhaps being the second film it’s inevitable though, that it’s a little thinner/more lightweight than last time. I’m just impressed that the film is still as solid as it is. These films are basically “Ocean’s 11” films but better-paced, far funnier, less heavy-handed, and more interesting. It’s really cool watching these guys do their thing (CGI assist or not), especially in a scene involving a hermetically sealed room, a metal detector, and something they need to get out of said room.

On the downside, whilst Daniel Radcliffe’s character is very interesting, Radcliffe himself isn’t interesting or terribly funny. It still kinda works even with his bland performance, but the stunt casting isn’t really necessary. Yeah, very cute. Harry Potter in a movie about magicians. I get it. He’s just not credible playing a corporate sleaze. He’s also far too young once you find out his secret identity (if you don’t work it out almost immediately), so it doesn’t come off there, either. I also don’t think Harrelson’s secondary character is quite as funny as everyone involved seems to think, which is a shame. I like Harrelson, but he isn’t nearly as effective this time out.

A bit of a stepdown from last time, but such nifty filmmaking that it manages to work at least in the moment. Jolly good fun, fresh or not, and Lizzy Caplan is a star waiting to happen.

Rating: B-


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