NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (Entertainment One/Summit)
Dir. Jon M. Chu, Script. Ed Solomon
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou with Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman
Plot: The Horsemen return, but are on the run from not only the FBI, but a presumed dead tech magnate.
For any of you (most likely insane) people who have followed the last few TWIM posts religiously, you’ve probably noticed a recurrent trend popping up. For the last five or six movies, I’ve been pushed into a corner – I haven’t hated any of them, but neither have I really enjoyed them. They’ve been blips on my radar for an hour or two and then they slide into the infinite well that is mediocrity. So thank god for Now You See Me 2, a movie that I don’t have strong feelings for either way granted, but at least has enough interesting things going on that I have a lot to talk about. The sequel to the surprisingly successful David Copperfield-meets-Oceans’ Eleven thriller is your typical summer season fare in that it rides the rules of physics like a 6 year old child rides a mechanical bull, and Morgan Freeman is seen earning some more money for being himself in front of a camera.
But why is a sequel to Now You See Me some kind of a godsend, oh movie reviewer? Well, for a start, it feels like the team behind it (although Louis Leterrier has been substituted by Justin Bieber: Never Say Never helmsman Jon M. Chu) are committed to the world, the story and the characters. Take the interplay between the Horsemen, a team of magicians/vigilantes: rather than it feel like a melting pot of conflicting egos, the team feels like a legitimate team, with everybody having their own imprint on the dynamic. While screenwriter Ed Solomon’s dialogue is in no way profound, and sometimes bogs down by the sheer weight of its own convolutedness, it does extract the personalities from Now You See Me 2‘s characters effectively, and nobody in this movie feels like a cookie cutter (with the exception of Jay Chou, who only features to provide wishy-washy philosophy in a Lethal Weapon-combo with his grandmother).
Continuing on Ed Solomon’s screenplay, its something that I genuinely admire despite its many, sometimes colossal flaws. The manner in which the absence of Isla Fisher, who almost died for the first movie’s cause, is explained is shoved in there once and never spoken of again. Also, and I hate to repeat myself, but this plot is ridiculously convoluted: it’s very hard after a while to believe anything that’s going on, because there are 10 scenes or more where what is actually happening plot-wise is completely against what we’re being led to believe. However, while I’m usually not a massive fan of being smarmily lectured on the logic-defying ways by which our protagonists trick our antagonists, there’s not a movie in the world that this is more apt for. In a sense, and I know a lot of people are going to dislike this movie for it, Now You See Me 2 is a large illusion, a series of set-pieces that misdirect the audience into believing certain things, all setting up for a big reveal that actually implies the entire film is a misdirection, but in a way that barely explains how this was possible, nor why this occurred.
I respect, therefore, that you might want to shy away from what is essentially a 129 minute long troll. But if you’re willing to accept being a pawn of Now You See Me 2‘s production team, then there are many positives to derive. For a start, I now see exactly why Summit Entertainment (owned by beleaguered, post-Hunger Games Lionsgate) went with Jon M. Chu, the aforementioned man behind a Bieber concert show, because Now You See Me 2 is all show (and, to be honest, not very much tell), all lights and flash. Chu has a very good handle on the film’s ‘action’ sequences, showing methodical construction as well as a good eye for a shot, best displayed in a sprawling tracking shot focusing on a single playing card. Also, as perhaps wanted by Lionsgate, Chu has given Now You See Me 2 a lighter tone, and he allows the comic aspects of Solomon’s screenplay to come through.
Of course, we have to talk about the cast – honestly, its one of the most impressive of the year, jam-packed with a whole host of interesting new faces on top of the familiar actors from the previous instalment. However, Isla Fisher’s decision not to return is perhaps the biggest – fortunately, her essential replacement (rather than recasting) Lizzy Caplan, best known for getting blown to bits in Cloverfield and for simply being in the iconic Mean Girls, is a very fun new addition. Caplan’s underground magician recruited into the Horsemen is often the source of Now You See Me 2‘s comedy, but a romantic subplot between her and Dave Franco (satisfactory) is little more than a distraction. Also new in is Harry Potter himself: Daniel Radcliffe has taken on a rather interesting spread of roles since he saved Hogwarts (in order to shed the fact he did that, I suppose), and while his role as an inventor who faked his own death is probably the least complex of them all, he makes Walter Mabry a rather interesting watch. Radcliffe hits a number of tones – comical, serious, occasionally even frightening – and is a capable screen presence here.
In fact, the new faces overshadow the returning ones on the whole. Jesse Eisenberg, fresh from absolutely ruining one of the greatest villains in comic book history, proves that he’s still clinging on to his performance in The Social Network and can do absolutely nothing else; Woody Harrelson, in a double role as Merritt McKinley and his twin brother (I said suspension of disbelief was key), seems a bit bored of playing the hypnotist already, instead reserving every fibre, every cell, every sub-atomic particle of camp within his being for playing Chase McKinley, a character whose existence is based upon what I can only presume is Harrelson demanding he get a chance to go insane. It’s simply unbelievable folks, and it takes you out of the film completely. Caine and Freeman come in to give Now You See Me 2 a sheen of prestige/Nolan fanboy box office and they ultimately do exactly what you expect them to. And, before I forget, why was Mark Ruffalo, a truly outstanding actor who put in one of last year’s best performances in Spotlight, not capitalised upon by the writers? Sure, Dylan’s had his twist now, but we’ve still not seen much of the supposed best magician in the universe. In fact, besides disappearing conveniently and brooding over his father’s death, Ruffalo isn’t given much to do, and his biggest role in the film is fathering a petulant and arrogant Eisenberg, who seeks leadership of the Horsemen. I know I might sound harsh on Eisenberg post-Lex Luthor, but I think only now am I starting to realize that he can literally play only one character.
But is Now You See Me 2 a one trick pony? To a degree; the reliance the film has on withholding the context of scenes before revealing them does fit a film based entirely on illusionists and magicians, but if anything the illusion distracts its audience from a film that doesn’t have too much underneath – it merely seems more impressive. However, despite all this, and the impressive 129 minute run-time that does drag quite a bit in the second act, I still quite liked Now You See Me 2. The characters felt like they were characters, the set pieces are inventive if illogical, and I admire the filmmakers behind it for going at it with ambition rather than playing it safe, even if it does lead to more confusion than coherence. In the end, it’s a magic trick you won’t mind believing.
BEST WATCHED: Cinema money? Probably not. Rental money? Absolutely.
Announced a year ago now, Lionsgate are willing to push franchises from anything right now, and Now You See Me is definitely getting a third instalment, with Chu returning to direct and Ed Solomon expected to pen the script. The big-name cast have big-name projects lined up: Eisenberg and Ruffalo star in rival comic book universes, Eisenberg in Justice League and Ruffalo in Thor: Ragnarok. Woody Harrelson has YA adaptation The Glass Castle, his depiction of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in LBJ, and a role in War Of The Planet Of The Apes lined up, and Morgan Freeman will once again say things authoritatively in the Ben-Hur remake, which still doesn’t look like a good idea.