Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Woody Harrelson, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
3 STARS (out of 5)
Ensemble stories are always difficult – and oftentimes, they’re also incredibly popular – meaning that, to get them right, you’re always going to need a good balance of sound acting talent and a capable script to balance multiple personalities and often complex plots. Ensemble comedies work well in spades – and in recent years, so do dramas – and the original Now You See Me was a fair success for its stars and its studio as a result of some of the finer touches made to these areas. The sequel, too, builds upon the original in an entertaining way, but sadly misses the mark on a number of areas where it believes it works best.
The Horsemen – a band of magicians that were brought together by a mysterious organisation known as ‘The Eye’ in the original movie to overturn a corrupt corporate CEO – return as they find that they are called upon to tackle a new challenge – expose a smartphone CEO for his worth and misdeeds. Seems simple enough for the willing and able band of rogues – after all, they mystified many during the events of the first movie – but they soon find themselves at the mercy of an apparently smarter antagonist in the form of Daniel Radcliffe, who looks set to call the Horsemen’s collective bluff – or is he? Similarly to the first movie, this is a picture that throws as many twists and turns as it does tricks – and this is both to its benefit and its detriment.
NYSM2 is an entertaining, well-paced and engaging movie that benefits from great direction and a mostly fantastic cast. Eisenberg is arguably at his best here when he’s not chewing the scenery (see his take on Lex Luthor), Caplan makes for an engaging new addition in the wake of Isla Fisher’s departure, and Harrelson – above all – shows his genuine acting chops by playing twin brothers, polar opposites, no less. His range here is fantastic – again showing that he was hugely underused in Triple 9. Morgan Freeman offers a fine performance just as you’d expect – and Daniel Radcliffe goes against type yet again to play a precocious and over-strident young CEO. While Radcliffe can seem a little out of place on occasion, he is starkly different enough from the main ensemble that he is both memorable and effortlessly antagonistic. Mark Ruffalo, however, while playing a pivotal role, feels a little under-appreciated – he has shown his range and ability to greater effect in movies such as Spotlight and Zodiac, but he however plays a character you’ll be rooting for with little problem.
The main problems that NYSM2 faces are largely to do with its plotting. This is a movie that delights in showing you twists, turns, unexpected moments in the plot and diversions at the last second – apart from that much of the twists are reasonably predictable. Anyone who saw the first movie will likely enjoy the similar direction and the return of an amiable cast with engaging charisma, but anyone with even a slight knowledge of this genre will be able to predict both the climax and the supposed twists well ahead of any signposting. A final twist that occurs with barely ten minutes to spare rather beggars belief – as any audience will hardly believe that any other outcome would be considered feasible. Without offering any spoilers, there is a penultimate scene that could see the plot go in one of two directions to the grand finale – and one is so blindingly ridiculous with ten minutes left on the clock that it feels somewhat cheap and even hurried.
Now You See Me 2 - Official Trailer (Lionsgate Movies)
Other criticism aimed at the movie comments on the ‘bloated’ screenplay and the myriad of events that it attempts to cram into the runtime. Admittedly, this is a fast-paced movie that tries to be as clever as possible – and, for the most part, it is entertaining – it’s just not likely to be anyone’s favorite movie any time soon. There is enough variety in the action, the cast and in the direction to keep you interested throughout – but on a storytelling level, it’s rather pedestrian. The visual spectacle and the cast charisma are predominantly the main reasons for watching NYSM2 – it is effectively the movie RED only with magicians, and Freeman was in that ensemble too – whereas it really, really wants you to appreciate how clever it’s trying to be. Sure, the twists and turns are entertaining enough, they’re just not particularly challenging.
As a result, this is ultimately a movie that attempts to carry on the successes made by the original in a rather safe way – it’s perfectly watchable, and it’s likely you’ll find enough variety in the pacing and the dialogue to warrant sitting through it at least once – but it’s ultimately the type of movie that you’ll likely want to watch as an easy option at home on a Saturday night. Nothing particularly worth writing home about, but nowhere near as terrible as some critics would have you believe.