‘Now You See Me 2’ suffers from Sequelitis

By Jonathan Shuping

June 11, 2016

I guess the most likely alternative title, Now You Don’t, was thought to be too negative. Where would that leave Lionsgate for naming the third installment?

That’s right, we have another franchise here and we know studios love their franchises these days, even though the whole title thing gets difficult for some, right Faster & Furious-er? In fact, Now You See Me 3 has already been announced before the second act has even debuted and, at Regal Stonecrest where this film was screened this week, nine of the 18 movies currently playing were sequels. And among the originals, there was the recently-franchised Jungle Book and sequel hopefuls Warcraft, Angry Birds, Nice Guys, and Zootopia.

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So as we swelter into the dog days of this our Summer of Sequels, our Franchise Film Festival, let us dive off a building and transform magically into a bunch of cash into Now You See Me 2, the sequel to the 2013’s highly successful Now You See Me which grossed over $350 million worldwide.  

Now the thing about sequels, as we all know, is that they always have to be bigger than the original. But in so doing, they are rarely better. There are exceptions like in the great debates of The Godfather vs Godfather 2 (I prefer the first one), Terminator vs. Terminator 2, and Alien vs. Aliens (I’m going sequel on both of these). Now You See Me 2 is not one of these outliers.  

The Four Horsemen are now internationally-known fugitives globetrotting from Macau to London as these locales replace the Vegas, New Orleans, and NYC stops on the original domestic tour. The Horsemen are also more secret agents than performing magicians and the movie gets off to a very promising start with some really funny Ocean’s Eleven-style heists including the world’s most entertaining game of keep-away with an ace of spades. However, the latter part of the feature relies too heavily on visual effects and plot twists, both of which, if you saw the first installment, are either old hat or expected. The film even goes on to pull back the curtain on several of the tricks a la Sherlock Holmes to show you how the feat was accomplished, yet others inexplicably remain a mystery. The temporary suspension of disbelief required to truly enjoy a movie in the Now You See Me series can be easily forgiven if the jokes are hitting, but in the second half of this one, they begin to fall flat.

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The producers impressively reassembled nearly the entire ensemble cast including Mark Zuckerberg/Jesse Eisenberg with his usual fast-talking snark, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson, who pulls double duty by also playing his own twin in a ridiculously cornball performance. The adorably spunky Lizzy Caplan fills in admirably for Isla Fisher as the token female Horseman. But it’s Inglorious Basterds’ French mademoiselle Melanie Laurent in the role of Interpol agent Alma Dray who is missed most. While the FBI manhunt for the Horsemen is still on, it takes a back seat to the ongoing rivalry between the magicians and tech mogul Walter Mabry, played by Daniel Radcliffe in a fun bit of casting. (Because who doesn’t get a kick out of Harry Potter insisting repeatedly that science will always defeat magic?  Ha!)  And even Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman return as the Horsemen’s vengeful foes, with the latter’s Thaddeus Bradley promising “an Eye for an Eye.” Wink-wink (double pun score!)!   

Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) inherited the directing reigns from Louis Leterrier for this sequel and the style of the film suffers. There are themes of revenge, the father/son relationship, and the right to privacy that are intriguing but don’t deliver any real impact.

In the end, this movie reminds me of J.J. Abrams’ infamously frustrating mystery box analogy (with Lost being the obvious example). Now You See Me showed us this really cool box. Now You See Me 2 shows you another side of the box, but we still have no clue what is inside. Thaddeus Bradley is fond of saying, “There’s always more than what’s on the surface.” For the sake of Now You See Me 3, let’s hope so.

Star Rating: 2½  stars out of 5

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