Now You See Me 2 is an uncommonly fun movie

by Steve Pulaski

My unusually high rating for Now You See Me 2, the sequel to the massive hit from 2013 that nobody saw coming, doesn’t mean I’m ignorant of the implausibilities and the sheer lunacy of some of the trickery in the film. If anything, it means I embraced it and went along for the ride, as I’m sure director John M. Chu (who also directed the Justin Bieber documentary Never Say Never) and writer Ed Solomon would’ve wanted.

Every year, a film like Now You See Me 2, a film that needs your suspension of disbelief to operate, comes along and gets critically lambasted as being unrealistic, yet the same people who thoughtlessly embrace the year’s batch of superhero films and science-fiction epics don’t even question any of the innerworkings of those plotlines. To treat Now You See Me 2 as the rare film predicated off of a lack of realism is downright absurd.

Similar to last month’s Nice Guys, this is a film that’s consistently entertaining until the end, funny, enthralling, and brimful of delightful action and setpieces. A large portion of the film’s success, however, is due to the commendable ensemble, which combines the familiar faces of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, and Morgan Freeman from the first film with newcomers to the series such as Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe, and Jay Chou to strong effect. Seeing this strong bunch of character actors come together in a film that’s constantly free and services nothing more than pulpy entertainment is a real treat.

Now You See Me 2
Directed by
Jon M. Chu
Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson
Release Date
10 June 2016
Steve’s Grade: A-

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The film takes place a year after the events of the first film, when the magic quartet known as the Four Housemen finally resurface for a comeback performance after outwitting the FBI in a massive heist. Still consisting of Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and their FBI mole Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), the only missing link is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who left behind in the group’s last magic act and imprisoned as a result.

The Horsemen become four again with the inclusion of Lula May (The Interview‘s Lizzy Caplan), and just in time for their wicked comeback performance where they attempt to outsmart a tech giant at a big product launch to inform the public of his issues with privacy settings. When their attempt to hijack the performance leads to them being exposed by another hacker, one thing leads to another (meaning one trick goes awry) and the four wind up in China. They meet Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), the man behind the hijacking, who tells them in order to be set free, they need to retrieve a heavily guarded technological chip that has the alleged ability to control governments and manipulate stocks.

By this point in the story considering how we managed to get here and how everything has worked out to get to the moment of meeting Walter, if you’re criticizing Now You See Me 2 on the basis of being plausible and realistic, you should simply leave the theater or shut off the movie. This is a ridiculous film from start-to-finish, but one that masters the idea of trickery and foolery as an entertainment. The more implausible the film got – consider the tense sequence where the Horseman retrieve the chip, attach it to a playing card, then spend roughly five minutes sneakily tossing it between one another through sleeves and jackets as they are heavily frisked and searched by guards – the more entertained I was as a result.

As stated, a good part of the entertainment comes in the commitment and likability of the cast with the material. Eisenberg and Franco, for instance, prove once again they have great screen presences just being regular people a wee bit too smart for their own good, Harrelson, who also plays his character’s comically evil twin in the film, shows his willingness to playfully adapt to his surroundings as an actor, and Caplan handles her own extraordinarily well in a male-dominated film. Side-characters like Ruffalo and Freeman provide momentary breaks from all the visual trickery, and Radcliffe and Chou carry their own performances with enough heft and confidence so much so that I wished the film focused on them a bit more.

Now You See Me 2 is an uncommonly fun movie because of its own manipulations and the simultaneous implausibilities that go along with the manipulations that are handled as completely believable circumstances. If you can cogently understand and accept that, as well as at least appreciate the gifted performances at hand, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have something of a stupid, glowing grin on your face for the course of this movie.