From the Archives: Now You See Me 2 review

From the Archives: Now You See Me 2 review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

As a child I loved magic. I watched every magic show on TV. I learned every card trick I could wrap my precocious little brain around. Every summer when I visited Ocean City with my family, I was most excited to visit the boardwalk magic shop (I hate the beach). Heck, I saw David Copperfield live. Twice. Magic is fun because we know we’re being fooled. We know that the magic isn’t real. We know that we’re two steps behind the performer, and we love it. It’s the same reason why heist movies are so much fun. When the artifice melts away and we see what’s really going on, the wow factor is positively enchanting. So it seems a natural fit to marry the heist film with the world of magic. Seems.

Much like its predecessor, Now You See Me 2 attempts to sell us on the idea that a team of skilled magicians could also be a team of skilled thieves. Magic is essentially a theft of trust, so why not throw money into the mix? Also like its predecessor, Now You See Me 2fundamentally misunderstands that magic is an ill fit for film. You see, cinema itself is a form of magic, and through the tools of editing, special effects, and simple omission, you can create the illusion of anything. Some of my favorite films, and all of my magic performances, have me asking “how’d they do that?” But when the tools of movie magic are used to depict acts of performance magic rather than having legitimate prestidigitation on display, it pretty much defeats the purpose.


Sure, Jesse Eisenberg tells us, and the crowd, that he used strobe lights to make it appear as if he paused the rain, but I know that the rain was CGI and Eisenberg was standing in a green studio. It’s the same reason why watching Criss Angel do “street magic” is so frustrating. It’s all staged and edited. Although unlike Criss Angel, I don’t desperately want to run Jesse Eisenberg over with a train and then have a party. I digress.

Let’s suppose one could get past this fundamental defect (and based on the huge success of the original film, plenty can). What can be expected? Basically the same thing we saw before. The Four Horsemen are back, now world famous for their Robin Hood-esque antics. They live on the run, performing guerilla-style while dishing out justice for the little guys. There’s Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, who looks like a mugshot), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, who will never not be Mike Pancake to me), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, doing what he does), and newcomer, Lula (Lizzy Caplan, who describes the events around her incredulously and acts like it’s comedy). Apologies to any fans of Isla Fisher, as her Henley Reeves was written out as unceremoniously as can be. Seriously, when asked where she went, the literal answer is “she had a chance to leave so she left.”

I think she made the right choice.

The plot is just as convoluted as the original film, with the Horsemen hired to steal something or other while a million other loosely related plot threads dance around like so much CGI confetti. Daniel Radcliffe is the big bad (I think, but it’s hard to tell who the real villain is given that our “heroes” aren’t very easy to root for), and it’s always delightful to watch our former Harry Potter have some fun. Also returning to the mix are Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo returning as two rival magicians. Their rivalry is odd considering that they could easily bond over the fact that they are both pompous jerks.


Step Up franchise alum Jon Chu replaces Louis Leterrier in he director’s chair, and his “group dance” sensibility is a good fit for the material. His strength in filming a kinetic ensemble makes for sequences with strong surface-level pleasures. One scene in particular involves a playing card with a stolen computer chip affixed to it that must be slipped past security by the Horsemen. Despite being a CGI-reliant slap in the face of believability, the way the scene is shot is exciting and joyful, and manages to give the audience a strong sense of how our protagonists work together. In fact, it’s this scene that gives Now You See Me 2 a slight edge over the previous film. Well, that and the fact that Woody Harrelson plays a dual role. Yes, Merritt’s twin brother shows up and watching two Woody Harrelsons bicker is exactly as ridiculous and enjoyable as one would imagine.

And that’s really the point here. The Now You See Me franchise (Now You S33 M3* is already greenlit) is very, very stupid, but not wholly difficult to enjoy. Heck, sometimes it’s fun to feel smarter than a movie – like, a lot smarter than a movie – and if you value such a thing, Now You See Me 2 might be your bag. Otherwise, you’d do better to host a double feature of Ocean’s Eleven and The Prestige.

*If any studio folk are reading this, please use this title.

Now You See Me 2 opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site

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