There were a number of baffling elements to 2013’s Now You See Me. From the fact that little of the film’s events made little sense to the simple fact that audiences turned out in droves for the silly trifle of a ragtag group of magicians that commit daring heists while on stage and then redistributing the booty with their cheering audience members. The film’s box office success practically ensured that a sequel would be happening, and now you see it with the equally baffling Now You See Me 2, which doubles down on the nonsensical elements of its predecessor. In a summer teaming with unnecessary sequels there may be no other sequel with such little reason to exist than Now You See Me 2.
Opening with a flashback set in the ‘80s, a young Dylan Rhodes (played in his adult years by Mark Ruffalo) is watching his father about to pull off a daring escape from a safe dropped into a river. Famed debunker of magicians Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is reporting on the scene for the local news, because, as we all know, feats of magic and illusion demand local news coverage and have magic experts on call to step in for their anchors. These early scenes are so chaotic in their presentation and clues us into the gaudy direction that Jon M. Chu will employ for the rest of the film. Of course, Dylan’s father is unable to make his escape and drowns. The only reason this scene is included in the film is because Dylan has to be motivated by daddy issues.
In the year since the events of the first film, the Four Horsemen have gone underground and live in hiding. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is weary of Dylan’s leadership and goes behind his back to speak the leader of The Eye, the magical organization that gives them their marching orders. After a conversation with the disembodied voice of The Eye, Atlas returns to his home to discover Lula (Lizzy Caplan), a shock magician specializing in blood and guts illusion who wishes to join the Horsemen following Henley’s departure (in other words, Ilsa Fisher didn’t come back for the sequel and the team needed a woman to create the illusion that this isn’t a male dominated movie). Soon the Horsemen are reunited with Jack (Dave Franco) and Merritt (Woody Harrelson) joining the team in order to pull off their next big job, which involves sabotaging a tech presentation where a mogul will unveil a new chip which will allow users to mine personal data. Before they can perform their job, the Horsemen are all exposed in front of the packed crowd, including Dylan being outed as a mole leading the Horsemen while posing as an FBI agent.
Fleeing the scene, the Horsemen try to make their planned escape only to find themselves in Macau, China, facing down Merritt’s twin brother Chase. (Yes, they’ve gone as far as to introduce a nonsensical twin brother in this fitfully absurd sequel.) The trickery that the Horsemen employ has been used against them by Walter Marby (Daniel Radcliffe), a tech giant who faked his own death and wants the Horsemen to steal the aforementioned chip… because reasons. Meanwhile back in the states, Dylan is scrambling for clues as to the whereabouts of his Horsemen, even seeking the counsel of Thaddeus, whom the Horsemen framed and imprisoned at the conclusion of the last film. Dylan busts Thaddeus out of jail and the duo travel to Macau to find the Horsemen. That tenuous partnership soon ends and Thaddeus teams with Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the insurance mogul that was ripped off in the last film and who is also the illegitimate father of Walter, in order to bring down the team of magicians. Needless to say, the Horsemen are going to need pull something special out of their hat in order to get out of this pickle.
If trying to follow that plot synopsis made your head spin, good luck trying to follow Now You See Me 2, a movie that is just non-stop nonsense hurled with sound and fury for a solid two hours. For a series of films that claim to be about magic, there’s little magic in these movies. Camera movements, quick edits, and ample use of CGI don’t lend any wonder or awe to the feats being performed in the film, and there’s a real commitment to just allow anything to happen only to have it conclude with an unsatisfactory explanation punctuated with “MAGIC!” The cinematic crime here isn’t that implausible or impossible things happen, it’s that they happen without giving the audience even tidbits of information. Chu and screenwriter Ed Solomon (working from a story by Solomon and Pete Chiarelli) never employ misdirection with the audience, where they give the audience tidbits of visual information on a first glance but distract with something else in the foreground. No, stuff just happens and then in complete defiance of the old adage “a good magician never reveals his secrets” characters just recount every little detail after the fact.
Throughout the Now You See Me 2, the specter of Dylan’s dead father motivates all of his actions. It’s the reason he framed Thaddeus for the crime at the end of the first movie and the reason that the Horsemen defrauded Arthur Tressler in the previous movie as well. This is a character that has spent 30 years craft the most elaborate and absurd revenge plot known to man. At the very end of the film it is revealed that Thaddeus was actually partners with Dylan’s father and took his 18 months in prison in good spirits because… reasons. He’s actually the head of the mysterious organization The Eye, and basically his oddly shoehorned redemption arc makes him the Nick Fury of the Now You See Me Cinematic Universe. Because future installment aren’t far from the filmmakers’ minds, the Horsemen move into a house with The Eye, which allows for cast members to be easily replaced when they tire of this nonsensical series (which I imagine would be quite soon).
Now You See Me 2 is a dismal continuation of a movie that wasn’t that good in the first place, but was able to glide by on a robust and charming cast. This is a sequel that falls into the trap that befalls so many sequels – just give ‘em more and more and more. More of Now You See Me basically borders on being avant garde with its complete detachment from anything resembling coherency. Even most of the cast can’t pull out a spirted performances from their hats, though I should say Lizzy Caplan really makes the most of her limited material and is the lone bright spot in this loud, obnoxious sequel. At this point, the only way to make this series interesting would be a team of magicians led by Gob Bluth from Arrested Development. Hell, it wouldn’t be dumber or more incoherent than anything in Now You See Me 2.
Now You See Me 2
- Overall Score
Absolutely incoherent and unnecessary, Now You See Me 2 is wholly lacking in magic with its ridiculous plotting and lifeless execution.