Mark Reviews Movies

Now You See Me 2


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou, David Warshofsky, Tsai Chin

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)

Running Time: 2:09

Release Date: 6/10/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 9, 2016

Something has gone terribly awry here. The mediocre Now You See Me may have been more concerned with the game than the movie's characters, but at least there was some sense of those characters—even if it was only based on their respective fields of expertise in the illusionary arts. Now You See Me 2 treats its characters as a footnote. Their skills don't even matter much here, since it turns out that they're perfectly skilled at whatever trick the movie requires for the plot to move forward.

Much is made of the fact, for example, that Merritt (Woody Harrelson), the resident hypnotist of the group of magicians/criminals called the Four Horsemen, is terrible at card trickery. For the year in between the events of the first movie and this one, he has been practicing and has shown no improvement, according to the team's "cardist" Jack (Dave Franco).

The point, of course, is that Merritt's lack of ability with playing cards puts him and the rest of the team in a sticky situation. At one point, he has to pull off a string of difficult moves in order for the plan to succeed. There's a distinct disconnect between what screenwriter Ed Solomon has been setting up and what director Jon M. Chu does with that setup.

In theory, there should be tension in that scene. Instead, Chu gives us a series of whiz-bang Moments, as the card passes between the characters and as the camera follows it in close-up while it travels through their clothing—in one sleeve and out the other.

The scene, then, is definitely not about the characters, the remainder of whom include showman Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg) and newcomer Lula (Lizzy Caplan), who excels in "geek magic" involving lots of stage blood. Their respective skills—the only thing that defines each of them—no longer matter, so it's not about them. The scene isn't about suspense, either, because all of the characters—even Merritt, whom the team quizzically assigs a final, all-important throw—are so clearly adept at the tricks.

It's not even about the card, really, because, well, it's a playing card with a meaningless MacGuffin attached to it. No, the sequence is about the fact that Chu can stage the multiple in-air and through-the-clothes passes while capturing the moves with some neat camera trickery.

It could be a nifty sequence, but for it to work on anything beyond a superficial level, we have to have some sort of context to it. We possess only a minimal understanding of why the piece of technology attached to the card is important. Basically, the Horsemen want it because Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), the villain with a vague motivation involving his privacy, wants it.

The best that can be said of the scene is that it's the cleanest, most visually comprehensible of the movie's various magic/action sequences. The rest of them appear as if they were shot on the fly and edited with the understanding that they really don't mean anything to the plot.

At one point, Dylan (Mark Ruffalo), the FBI agent whose leadership of the Horsemen is revealed to the world (a fact that doesn't stop a wanted man, whose face is plastered all over TV, from gaining access to a federal prison), gets into a fight with a group of henchmen. He uses his magic tricks to get the upper hand. There's also a late, interrupted motorcycle chase, and while both scenes are only temporary distractions before the plot chugs along, they're also depressingly incompetent in terms of simple visual coherence. They're composed of chaotic flashes of action, without any communication of who's doing what and where anyone is relative to anyone else.

The plot really doesn't matter here. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine's characters return with plans for revenge, as the Horsemen follow orders from Walter under threat of death. Just as in the first movie, the Horsemen's schemes play out with teases of things to come and the promise of explaining everything that has happened after it already has happened—and well after we stop caring. This is the sort of movie in which a character reveals a key piece of information at the very end, even though he has plenty of opportunities and reasons to divulge it before then. The only reason for keeping the secret is that the entire plot would be unnecessary.

The whole point of Now You See Me 2 is to keep us in the dark for as long as possible—and then some. It's frustrating as hell, because the game this time is never convincing, surprising, logical, or even comprehensible.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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