Film Review: Now You See Me 2 (USA, 2016)

The first Now You See Me had a thrifty premise and a slick cast but was let down by a last-minute plot twist that was, quite literally, almost-unbelievable. The second film,  while disappointingly not called either Now You See Me Too or Now You Don’t, settles a more evenly-spread acceptance of the impossible. However, if the series’ previous narrative gymnastics didn’t drive you away from this film, you’re probably in for a fun ride.

Taking place a year after the first, Now You See Me 2 sees stage-magic superteam The Four Horsemen emerge from hiding to expose a tech billionaire illegally selling his customer’s data. Unfortunately for them, their grandiose return to the public eye is itself sabotaged by a mysterious third party (Daniel Radcliffe), who then transports the group to China and recruits them to pull off yet-another impossible heist. Meanwhile, Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) finds himself forced into a tenuous alliance with Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman) after his secret double-life is exposed. While all the returning faces make for some fun, the film often feels more like an encore than a second act.

It’s telling that the first thing Now You See Me 2 addresses is Mark Ruffalo’s character. It puts a spotlight on Dylan. We learn more about his father and see his double-life in action. Though a character almost entirely-defined by his “twist”, the script gets a lot more mileage out of that than you’d expect.

As for the rest of the team, Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is learning to become an accomplished hypnotist, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is dealing with some family drama, Isla Fisher‘s character has left the group and Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) has settled for having less hair and more ambition.

In addition, Lizzy Caplan’s Lula (stepping in to replace Fisher) works wonders for the film. Sure, it doesn’t take much of the film’s unbelievable antics to put a smile on your face but Caplan injects genuine comedy into things. She’s constantly making fun of her role as the film’s female lead and her ability to steal scenes is pretty much uncontested until Daniel Radcliffe arrives on the scene.

The shift in location to China, along the revenge-driven setup, lends Now You See Me 2 a very different feel to the first one. The cinematography maintains that same dazzling quality from the first film while Jon Chu‘s direction feels more frenetic – especially during the action scenes.

Both the first Now You See Me and this film talk a big game about misdirection but there’s more obfuscation at work here than anything else. The film never really explains the rules it’s playing by, so it never needs to hold itself to account. Despite the Four Horsemen are motivated by a desire to obtain real magic, they can basically bend and break the laws of physics whenever the script calls for it. The film is never really tricking the audience – just charging forward fast enough that they don’t have time to notice the cracks.

It never really explains the rules the Horsemen are playing by, so it’s not all that impressive when they exploit them. Still, it’s a testament to the ensemble (especially Caplan), that this film is a fun time regardless. Like the first, Now You See Me 2 is all about style over substance. It’s flashy and flawed but never hard to jump aboard.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Now You See Me 2 is out this week.