Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. Some cursing and lewd jokes, including one about spousal abuse; some implied sexual tension between a few of the main characters; a character who dies in a magic-related accident (drowning in a safe); a scene where characters are searched and the female protagonist is forced to take off her bra; a bloody gross-out moment where a magician fakes her arm being cut off by an electrical steak knife; and some played-for-laughs photos of someone pranking and posing inappropriately with unconscious bodies.
‘Now You See Me 2’ is marginally better than its underwhelming 2013 predecessor thanks to new cast additions and a lighter tone. But this narrative of Robin Hood-like magicians still over-explains and under-delivers.
By Roxana Hadadi
Back in 2013, “Now You See Me” tried to merge glitzy magic tricks with the attitude of a vengeful hacker, painting a story in which four big-time magicians stood up for the common man by stealing money from a gigantic, unethical corporation. That bizarre mash-up of tone and content continues in “Now You See Me 2,” which adds more humor this time around but is still clunky, overly complicated, and mostly unbelievable.
“Now You See Me 2” picks up one year after its predecessor. The Four Horsemen are the world’s most famous magicians, but are still in hiding after the events of the previous film, in which they ruined a diabolical insurance man, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, of “The Last Witch Hunter”), and sent magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, of “Dolphin Tale 2”) to jail.
In the time since, Horseman Henley (Isla Fisher, of “The Great Gatsby”) has left the group. The outside world still thinks that Horseman Jack (Dave Franco, of “22 Jump Street”) actually died, one of the ruses from the previous film. Secret group leader Dylan (Mark Ruffalo, of “The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron”) remains undercover at the FBI, misleading the investigation into the Horsemen’s whereabouts, while Horseman Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg, of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) distrusts Dylan and wishes that he were in charge instead. And Henley’s replacement, Lula (Lizzy Caplan, of “Bachelorette”), is trying to prove herself as the group’s fourth public member, despite vaguely sexist dismissal from the other three Horsemen, including Merritt (Woody Harrelson, of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”).
When their would-be triumphant return to the public goes wrong, though, the Four Horsemen realize that perhaps the foes they thought they conquered in “Now You See Me” aren’t going to take their defeat so easily. Instead of exposing a tech titan as a hypocrite who is selling people’s private information on the black market, the Four Horsemen end up revealed to the FBI—blowing Dylan’s cover—and somehow in Macao. With Dylan trying to find them while also on the run and the Horsemen themselves unsure of what went wrong, things start unraveling.
From his prison cell, Thaddeus threatens the group with “You will get what’s coming to you.” And new villain Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe, of “Victor Frankenstein”) wants the Four Horsemen to steal the very technology they were going to expose with their latest magic trick. If they don’t do what he wants, he’ll ruin their lives—but if they do this job, they’ll be going against the principles of the Eye, the mysterious organization with which the Horsemen have aligned themselves. It’s a decision that might tear the Horsemen, already fractured by infighting and ego, fully apart.
This whole narrative is, quite frankly, ridiculous, and the idea of self-centered magicians going all Robin Hood in defense of the working man never really becomes believable in “Now You See Me 2,” much like it didn’t in the first film. But what works better here is a lighter tone, thanks to a plot twist in the form of Merritt having a smarmy, hammy twin brother—also played by a tanner, bleached-smile version of Harrelson—and to the new cast additions of Radcliffe and Caplan.
Caplan is a charismatic, endearing presence whose meta-commentary on the Horsemen is consistently amusing, and Radcliffe does well as a typically British villain. One scene in which he sips tea while overseeing the drowning murder of a foe is great, dry humor. And there are good setpieces here, like when Lula hurriedly makes a flock of doves fly out of her jacket and Daniel seems to control the rain in the middle of Paris.
But “Now You See Me 2” gets quite frustrating when the plot devices start piling up on themselves, when everyone is double-crossing everyone else, and everyone has ulterior motives, and everyone has a secret, and every character you thought was one thing ends up being something else. That bait-and-switch gets exhausting after a while, and all of the major plot “revelations” feel unearned and overexplained. There’s more fun to be had in “Now You See Me 2,” but the film’s inability to get out of its own way remains profoundly irritating.
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