NOW YOU SEE ME 2. Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Daniel Radcliffe, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, and Lizzy Caplan. Directed by Jon M. Chu. Rated M (Violence). 129 min.
This American thriller is the sequel to "Now You See Me" (2013). Familiar actors reprise their roles, including Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, and Michael Caine, and as in the original film, the thriller features of this movie are built around a criminal heist that is given a very special twist.
The Four Horsemen (Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, and newcomer, Lizzy Caplan), enjoy a reputation for magical showmanship. This film picks the Horsemen up a year after they stopped their magical stunts, which were very popular with an adoring public, and they have outwitted the FBI which is on the hunt for them. In the past, they robbed banks and rewarded their audiences with the money they stole, and now they are after a legal pardon for their crimes.
In their new life, they are targeted for their skills by Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), a hardened, young criminal with a vengeful father (Michael Caine). He is a technological mastermind with absolute control on his mind, and Radcliffe, of "Harry Potter" fame, has clearly been added to the movie to enhance its star-power.
Walter Mabry's "possible" accomplice (and who knows what exactly an accomplice is in a movie like this?) is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). Thaddeus is angry at having been framed by Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who was an FBI agent in the first movie, and for most of this movie, Freeman plays an intriguingly ambiguous role. We are never sure which side he is on, until the final scenes of the movie play themselves out.
The Four Horsemen are being threatened by a man they need to expose. Mabry asks them to perform a high-tech robbery which is highly dangerous and looks impossible. The only hope The Four Horsemen have of revealing him as the criminal genius the FBI is looking for, is for them to perform what he asks them to do.
The first film was a movie built around the performance of magical tricks. In this film, the thriller-mystery component has been increased to accompany The Four (or is it five?) Horsemen's displays of "magic". Familiar plot-twists and script-surprises are there, and there are many of them, and the movie plays fast and loose with seemingly real events. Previously, the illusory nature of the Horsemen's tricks always won the day. The pursuit of the magicians was never as interesting as the illusions they created. Now, the surprises come too thick and fast to guess at what is really real.
The direction of the film has changed, and a new Director (Jon M. Chu) is in charge. Also, in the past three years, special effects units in cinema production have become more sophisticated. In this film, it is not the "magic" one sees on the screen that impresses, so much as how the special effects units join with the plot-line to facilitate cinematic appeal. The subtle dividing line between reality and illusion has shifted, and fantasy creations are now more readily apparent for what exactly they are. This spoils the plot, but nevertheless still makes for entertaining cinema. The enjoyment value of the movie has swung from magic-mode to thriller-mystery mode. Focus is on the tension of the robbery, how difficult it is, and whether Mabry will actually be caught, and not on whether magic creates captivating illusions.
This is an entertaining follow-up to the 2013 film, but Jon Chu has delivered a very different kind of movie. As a thriller, it holds the tension moderately well. As a display of magic, it looks backwards to the original film. The illusory deception we saw in the original movie has been replaced by criminal intrigue in a less compelling way.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Entertainment One Films
Released June 2nd., 2016