Trying to depict the art of magic in a movie is usually an exercise in futility, mostly because any sense of wonder an audience might get out of the act is blunted or taken away completely by the editing process. Making movies is already magic — filmmakers can create nearly anything they want; adding in illusions is just redundant.
That said, the original Now You See Me did a solid job of pairing the idea of magic with a crime caper, letting us get the sense of the cons so that we could be entertained by them. The necessity of a Now You See Me 2 is questionable, but since developing a franchise is the way of the world nowadays, its existence was inevitable.
This time around, the Four Horsemen — Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and the newly recruited Lula (Lizzy Caplan) — are blackmailed into working for the tech genius Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who’s looking to get his hands on a piece of software that would allow him to spy on almost everybody on earth.
The details of the story, which are overly dense and complicated, don’t really matter; all we want to see are the Four Horsemen pulling off heists in their unique manner. And for the most part, the actual tricks do the trick, marrying sleight of hand with movie wizardry for satisfying results.
But the overall fun seems to be missing this time around. In the first film, the Four Horsemen took obvious pleasure in their deeds. Here, there’s more of a sense of drudgery, as each struggles with his or her lot in life and the idea of being forced to work instead of working for the sheer joy of it.
It doesn’t help that new characters, like Mabry and Merritt’s twin brother, Chase (cheesily played by Harrelson), are such duds. The diminutive Radcliffe lacks any real menace, and Chase is never given anything of import to do, existing merely to allow Harrelson to ham it up.
The three original stars — Eisenberg, Harrelson, and Franco — do enough with the material to make it watchable. The addition of Caplan, stepping in for the then-pregnant Isla Fisher, is a nice bonus.
But Now You See Me 2 doesn’t contain nearly enough good moments to end up on the positive side of the ledger. Filmmakers can only fool us for so long, and this movie contains too many flaws to hide them all.