REVIEW — “Now You See Me 2”
Now You See Me 2 suffers from a slow start, familiar plot threads, and a twist that does not work as well as that in the original. Yet, it is an entertaining sequel thanks to the solid camaraderie between the cast members, consistent comedic relief, and enjoyable action sequences.
After the opening scene, in which audiences witness the tragedy that defines Dylan Rhodes, the drowning of Lionel Shrike – his father – during a failed magic trick, the next ten minutes are dull and poorly structured. Due to poor editing, most of the scene changes feel abrupt and premature. For these reasons, Now You See Me 2 does not truly hit a consistently entertaining stride until Woody Harrelson’s Merritt McKinney comes on screen and cracks jokes.
Familiar Plot Threads:
As in the first film, the Four Horsemen are being hunted by the FBI. This time, however, the woman in charge of the investigation is Sanaa Lathan’s Deputy Director Natalie Austin, a young leader eager to do her duty. While it makes sense that the Four Horsemen are being pursued by the CIA, they barely pose any tangible threat to them. To make matters worse, Sanaa Lathan’s performance and character are bland and underdeveloped.
Another familiar aspect in Now You See Me 2 is the romantic relationship that develops between Lizzy Caplan, who portrays Lula, and Dave Franco, who portrays Jack Wilder. These two characters exchange flirtatious dialogue in one scene and instantly like each other, which is a typical movie trope. That being said, Caplan and Franco do not have enough chemistry to make their relationship development relevant or interesting. Screenwriter Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Charlie’s Angels) could have omitted their relationship without sacrificing anything in this film. The relationship between Lula and Jack is ultimately a watered-down version of the relationship that develops between Daniel Atlas and Henley Reeves in that it exists primarily for fan service: audiences want someone to fall in love and kiss at the end of every film – or at least that is what many filmmakers believe.
The Twist (Spoiler-Free):
Now You See Me is best-known for the twist which took place in its final act. In Now You See Me 2, there is a twist that changes how the audience views both installments of this young franchise. Because audiences are expecting a twist this time, it is considerably less surprising. Even though the twist itself is not what most will expect, its impact is barely registered before this film concludes. After all, Ed Solomon uses the new twist to try to resolve a 30-year-old vendetta within a few minutes. This would work if director Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Jem and the Holograms) knew how to handle drama effectively. Instead, Chu directs two incredibly talented actors to underact a scene that is meant to provide the heart of this film. Consequently, this twist is not as strong as that in the original.
Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Lizzy Caplan) face-off against four villains in this sequel: Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), and Chase McKinney (Woody Harrelson). Out of these foes, by far the best are Walter and Chase. Daniel Radcliffe’s Walter has a theatrical entrance, but it is Radcliffe’s emotive work that makes it convincing that he is a devious genius using the Four Horsemen to get what he wants. His performance perfectly captures the self-centered, immature nature of Walter.
Woody Harrelson’s Chase is the twin brother of Merritt McKinney, one of the Four Horsemen. Given filmmaking tropes, it is not surprising that Merritt’s twin brother holds a childhood grudge against him and tries to get inside his head. Harrelson, thankfully, provides enough charisma and excellent comedic timing to make this twin brother an interesting advesary. Best of all, Harrelson’s twin brother understands the Four Horsemen and can predict most of their next moves, which gives Walter an edge in his conflict with them.
Michael Caine is wasted as Arthur Tressler, a wealthy businessman out for revenge against the Four Horsemen and Dylan Rhodes. Because Tressler is more of a behind-the-scenes villain, the scenes in which he is onscreen needed to matter more. Unfortunately, Caine brings nothing interesting to his one dimensional character other than delivering a single hilarious one-liner regarding the true parentage of another character.
Morgan Freeman’s performance as Thaddeus Bradley is less effective than his work in the original. For most of the film, Thaddeus Bradley is on the sidelines. Prior to the last act, Bradley taunts Dylan Rhodes repeatedly. In the final act, however, there is a significant change in his character, but Freeman’s performance is far more tired than convincing.
Cast Camaraderie – Comedy:
In spite of its shortcomings, Now You See Me 2 is mindlessly entertaining largely due to the efforts of the cast members portraying the Four Horsemen and Dylan Rhodes. As in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Fast & Furious Franchise, it is not the episodic storytelling, but the camaraderie between these four actors and actress that make this an entertaining experience.
Jesse Eisenberg once again portrays an egocentric, control-freak that talks rapidly. The difference in his work in this film and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that his character bounces well off of others. Frequently, the other Horsemen and him clash, which results in teasing and a few heated discussions. Eisenberg, as in his other performances, provides a sense of self-importance and uneasiness.
Lizzy Caplan provides enough personality to make it plausible that she is a vital part of this team. Also, her comedic timing, especially when her character’s suggestions are ignored by her fellow Horsemen, is excellent.
Dave Franco’s performance as Jack Wilder is what you would expect: he uses his charm to distract people from paying attention to what he is actually doing. As for Woody Harrelson, his one-liners are arguably the most reliable source of comedic relief. Because each of these actors can provide charisma and deliver one-liners effectively, this ensemble is funny and engaging.
Mark Ruffalo’s performance is at its best when Dylan Rhodes is striving to rescue the Four Horsemen. His dramatic acting is surprisingly lacking in that none of his emotional moments are as strong as they should be. With this in mind, Rhodes works as a member of this ensemble but not as an individual character.
Director Jon M. Chu’s best contribution to Now You See Me 2 is his slick direction of the magic tricks. While the fist fights and running are not quite as engaging as those in the original, Chu stages each magic trick effectively. The most memorable scene in this sequel occurs when the Horsemen use a playing card to conceal a device they have stolen from a wealth entrepreneur. As the Horsemen perform various amazing tricks to pass and hide the card, they have the pressure of getting through a metal detector and the security guards to raise tension and make this magic trick even more remarkable.
The most visually dazzling scene occurs when Jesse Eisenberg’s Daniel Atlas makes the rain stop and manipulates it in various methods. Given that the water looks real and the manner in which it moves is dazzling, it is clear that Chu has improved his direction of spectacle from his lackluster work in G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Now You See Me 2 is a flawed film, but the camaraderie between the Four Horsemen and Dylan Rhodes, as well as the spectacle, make this film enjoyable.
Rating: PG-13 for violence and some language.
Runtime: 2 Hours and 9 Minutes.