Now You See Me 2

NYSM2 is a literal and fatal misdirection with little in the way of fresh excitement.

Anyone who has seen Christopher Nolan’s cerebral masterwork in The Prestige will recall that a magic trick consists of three acts. Typically, this involves the ‘setup’ where the nature of the trick is explained, the ‘performance’ where the magician applies misdirection to fool the audience, and finally the ‘effect’ of the illusion on said audience. At no point will a magician reveal the secret behind the effect. So despite its critical consensus of style over substance, 2013’s Now You See Me turned out to be a popular hit precisely due to the performance and misdirection applied. It was cheesy fun and at times nail bitingly good but we wanted to be fooled and we were.

Picking up roughly a year after the events of the first film, Now You See me 2 seeks to bring back the pizzazz of its predecessor with more twists, turns, noise and nonsense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and while it’s fairly traditional to harvest the merit of an original, NYSM2 as a sequel suffers in continuity owing to a poorly conceived setup. A result of which has the returning A-list cast embroiled in a save-the-world technology heist, ala international espionage styled thriller. With the inclusion of Lizzy Caplan (replacing Isla Fisher), the Horsemen are now required to pull off a high security job reserved for the likes of Ethan Hunt. And as absurd as that sounds, the idea of a hi-tech heist using street magic is quickly overrun by expository plot points in the form of flashbacks. No surprise then that however baffling a trick might seem, Morgan Freeman’s celestial voice talent is always ready to narrate the secret. It doesn’t help either that most of the other actors struggle with characters that lack any semblance to the previous film; Jesse Eisenberg included. Also lacking, albeit severely, is the on-stage showmanship of the Horsemen that made them famous in the first place.

Instead, new director Jon M. Chu’s outlandish approach is in laying the foundation for a trilogy – much like the Oceans 11, 12, 13 franchise but with smoke, shadow, mirrors and identical twins. In part, this plays out by pitting head Horsemen Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) against Freeman’s Thaddeus Bradley, a magic debunker with ulterior motives. While this incubates a backstory of tragedy and vengeance, it also detracts from the central theme of magic and those show stopping illusions that we actually came to see. To its merit, the inclusion of Daniel Radcliffe adds a whimsy twist to this sequel. Radcliffe is no stranger to magic but we get to see him play a creepy Bond-like villain in a bizarre father-son relationship with main villain Tressler (Michael Caine). Other developments include Woody Harrelson in a double role with equally bizarre if not intended comic interjections. And poof! Everything else goes out the window, rabbit and hat in tow.

With ace illusionist David Copperfield serving as production consultant, NYSM2 should have turned out better than the first film. But on its own there is little in the way of fresh excitement, let alone not more than two main illusions. And undermining the entire concept of films about magic, at no point are we fooled into believing what we see either. Ultimately it all comes down to the arduous task of direction, or in this case, a literal and fatal misdirection but without the intended effect. Fans of the first film might find themselves in a giddy bag of tricks. For the rest, it’s like watching a street magician perform with Parkinson’s disease.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.