Same tricks but lacking the magic
The Horsemen return, but this time, their illusions are fooling no one.
OK, admittedly, the first Now You See Me was largely silly and could even be considered a goofy version of more refined heist films such as the Oceans trilogy. Nevertheless, the first film, which hit our screens in 2013, was still fun and somewhat original in its delivery. Its all-star cast provided strong performances that injected an element of charm and whimsy to the film. Even if you didn’t thoroughly enjoy the film’s ridiculous plot, you would’ve at least enjoyed watching Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Mark Ruffalo all trying to con each other.
Unfortunately for the second instalment, this formula no longer produces the magic that charmed the first one. This is largely due to the film’s newest additions to the cast. Whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Lizzy Caplan on the big screen, she brings very little to the team of Horsemen. It’s not made clear why she was chosen as Isla Fisher’s replacement and whilst her mild comedy is at times amusing, it’s too weak to justify the existence of her character. As a result, her character has no chemistry with the rest of team and her talents reveal her as more as a fish out of water. That’s not to say that Caplan was at fault in acting. In fact, I preferred watching her much more than watching Isla Fisher. Her character was simply weak and unnecessary, and only the writers are to blame for that.
The opposite can be said for Daniel Radcliffe. Daniel Radcliffe’s performance of an evil villain is not only laughably unconvincing but also so unbelievable that it detracts from the film’s serious scenes. Yes, the film is largely silly and its intention was always to be so, but where there are heroes, there needs to be equally antiheroes. Michael Caine delivers this perfectly and effortlessly, as does Morgan Freeman. Both actors inject enough sinister elements into their characters that make you truly despise them, leaving you rooting even more for the Horsemen to win. However, Radcliffe simply cannot perform with intimidation. The most laughable scene is when Radcliffe’s character supposedly has outsmarted the Horsemen and as a result is threatening and blackmailing them. Due to the nature of the almost invincible Horsemen, the audience needs to convinced that the person who manages to outsmart them is without doubt an evil genius, and despite all of the sinister music, fairly witty dialogue, intimidating set design of his character’s luxurious penthouse, Radcliffe simply cannot convince us that he “controls the whole of Macao”. His performance is not quite Dr Evil, but more like Ed Helms’ portrayal of a mob boss in We’re The Millers, but without the comedy.
Another weak character is Woody Harrelson’s character’s brother. Also played by Harrelson, this character somehow doesn’t have the spark that Harrelson usually has in all of his other roles. I’m a big Harrelson fan myself and whilst I was excited about the prospect of double the Harrelson, I was deeply disappointed by this character, which sadly fails live up to the Harrelson name. The significance of this character seems unnecessary too. There was no need to delve into Harrelson’s character’s history or family. The whole point of his character was that he was mysterious and whilst we don’t know how he ended up how he did, we don’t care because we love him how he is.
Acting aside, Now You See Me 2 is also not convincing with its plot. The story is as follows. The Horsemen have been in hiding for a year and Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is frustrated that the Eye is keeping him away from the public and decides to take lead and ignore ringleader and part-time FBI agent Dylan’s advice (Ruffalo). Meanwhile, Henley (Fisher) has gone MIA, not that the rest of the Horsemen care, and trickster Lula (Caplan) has began stalking Atlas, but is also suddenly good friends of Dylan. The new crew are then summoned by the Eye to pull of a heist, where they are then kidnapped by Walter Mabry (Radcliffe) who wants them to steal a computer chip. Meanwhile, Dylan is searching for his crew whilst Thaddeus (Freeman) offers to help him locate the Horsemen if he is released from prison because he somehow knows Mabry. Already, there are plot holes, leaving the audience questioning why everyone seems to know each other, and as the film progresses more and more plot holes begin opening up.
The film tries to cover these plot holes by reminding the audience that the Horsemen are magicians and can perform the next to impossible. Nevertheless, whilst these guys are certainly impressive, they are still illusionists, but yet the film has them carrying out impossible fetes to escape from sticky situations. It doesn’t feel clever and on the contrary, the audience is left feeling conned because many of their methods are simply implausible. The Oceans trilogy had you thinking “oh yeah, that’s smart how they did that”, whilst this film has you thinking, “that’s really, really silly”. It’s borderline insulting to think that audiences would buy their explanations. I’ll try not to spoil anything, but that card passing scene? REALLY??
So on the whole, Now You See Me 2 is largely disappointing, very silly and worsened by an actor who should’ve stuck to team magic instead of team evil. Having said that, Eisenberg (who actually seems to suit his role quite naturally), Harrelson, Franco, Caine, Freeman and Ruffalo were still a joy to watch. It’s just a shame they were all brought together in this unconvincing sequel.