I’ll admit this right off the bat. I was no fan of the first Now You See Me. I don’t like Jessie Eisenberg. I think he has all of the charisma and acting talent of a carrot. I was prepared to not like Now You See Me 2 either, and I didn’t, but I didn’t hate it either.
As a script, this is a fun movie. The plot points and the story zip along and are intriguing. The characters get in the way though.
Now You See Me 2 picks up 18 months after the conclusion of the original film. Henley Reeves (played by Isla Fisher in the first film) has left the Horsemen and the remaining members of the group (played by Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) have gone into hiding. Their leader Dylan Rhodes has resumed life as an FBI agent and is leading a manhunt for the group. Obviously, he is doing a very poor job on purpose.
In the first movie, the group stole money from and exposed a crooked insurance mogul played by Michael Caine. This time, they start work on a plan to expose a young tech magnate, until their show and services are hijacked by said magnate’s rival, an equally despicable young billionaire, played by Daniel Radcliffe.
There’s intrigue, double crosses and world travel. For the most part, you get the idea. The one deviation from a standard caper script is that Woody Harrelson plays both his regular character, hypnotist Merrit McKinney, and Merritt’s twin brother with a facelift and a bad perm. The twin brother is the only character that consistently made me laugh…oh, also magic. Most caper movies don’t involve magic.
Let’s talk about the problems this movie has. First, it’s just not well written. Every character speaks with the same vocabulary and cadence. I usually like Lizzy Caplan in everything she’s in. In Now You See Me 2 she plays the Horsemen’s newest recruit and I kinda hated her because I hate Jessie Eisenberg and her character is almost indistinguishable from Jessie Eisenberg’s.
The biggest problem with the movie is in it’s marketing. Now You See Me ends with the Horsemen foiling two main villains. One is played by Morgan Freeman. The other is played by Michael Caine. They both show up on the poster for Now You See me 2, but their reveals are treated like surprises in the film. The movie telegraphed its pass so badly, that honestly nothing really surprised me.
The characters in the film make a big deal out of the science and art of prestidigitation. The key to illusions is making your mark look at one hand while the other is doing the actions that matter. Hiding places should always be hidden from the audience but obvious to you. Yet, there are some times the movie wants us to believe that some magic is just real. No explanation needed.
Sure, there are better things to see at the movies right now, but as a whole, the summer blockbuster season has been a bit threadbare in 2016. Now You See Me 2 is average at best, but by virtue of its competition may be one of the better things in theaters right now.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network. He can be heard weekday mornings from 6-10 on "The Morning Show with Mike, Lauren and Demetri" on Buzz Sports Radio.