If one were to take a look at the enduring, perennial category of lackluster, second-rate summer movies that inhabits roughly every summer in some capacity since the dawn of the medium, it would be easy to place most of this summer’s offerings into this group, with a slew of disappointing high-profile sequels, reboots & an ill-advised Tarzan adaptation clogging up theaters and eating up the hard earned dollar of many a weary audience member. Films like Alice Through the Looking Glass, X-Men: Apocalypse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows not only kicked off the season with an brazen wave of unpleasant cinema, but served as a dreadful indicator of what the next several months had in store.
Unfortunately, yet another addition to this list is the lazily-named, three-years-too-late Now You See Me 2. A follow-up to 2013’s Now You See Me, a film I actually really enjoyed (despite a somewhat sloppy ending), the premise of this theatrical misfire grabs many familiar elements from the original so as to try and create a worthy successor, with our intrepid team of illusionists known as The Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo and new addition Lizzy Caplan, replacing Isla Fisher) trying to navigate their way through their lives as fugitives following the events of Now You See Me while attempting to figure out their next move as new members of the cryptic secret society The Eye. When the group is forced on the lam once again following a surprise public performance gone wrong, they soon find themselves charged with the task of utilizing their sleight-of-hand skills to steal a powerful computer chip for a wealthy technology magnate (Daniel Radcliffe). Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are back as the devious men the Horsemen helped expose for all their transgressions in the original, and Harrelson even takes a crack at his best Parent Trap impression by playing his own character’s twin brother as well.
However, it’s from this point in the plot that things get tremendously confusing, with each scene worse than the last and eventually leading to a conclusion that fails to end the film with the satisfaction one should receive following the end of the downright exhaustive experience that is Now You See Me 2. It’s really just a big mess, one that even I can’t quite describe and certainly not one that ends up entertaining in ways that many bad movies tend to be. Average director Jon M. Chu, best known for a few Step Up entries and a Justin Bieber concert film, takes the reins from Louis Leterrier, while hit-or-miss producers Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci are back to try and make sense of the disaster that encapsulates Now You See Me 2’s overlong 129 minute runtime. Daniel Radcliffe is actually the best part of the cast, sporting some decidedly non-Harry Potter facial hair & an appropriately two-faced persona as the film’s villain that again shows his excellent range & potential for even better work outside of films about renegade magicians. Although I’ll always have a soft spot for the promising Dave Franco, his performance is as bland as his fellow Horsemen, with Lizzy Caplan trying desperately-and failing-to be some sort of comedic standout, and Mark Ruffalo seemingly killing time between last year’s Oscar-winning Spotlight and next year’s Thor: Ragnarok. Woody Harrelson’s irritating dual performance complete fails mainly due to his utilization of a ridiculous wig, gigantic white teeth and an eccentricity in his twin that tries to be silly but ends up grating, while Morgan Freeman continues to solidify his late-career success as Morgan Freeman Delivering Mysterious Lines In A Morgan Freeman Voice.
But it’s that premise that truly compliments the poor acting in ways that would make legendary B-movie schlockmeister Roger Corman proud. For a movie about magic, there’s very little of it to be seen, with most of the film instead relying on the heist our Horsemen are recruited into and enough twisty double-crossing to turn the film into a red-headed stepchild of Ocean’s Eleven. An opening sequence that attempts to give Ruffalo’s character some backstory is honestly quite bad, largely due to the overacting child actor who plays young Ruffalo, and a recurring plot involving Ruffalo’s deceased magician father & the still-baffling Eye society comes off as puzzling, unnecessary &, with all the garbage on top of it, hard to follow. At least the rousing score, again crafted by returning composer Brian Tyler, keeps things moving along, though even that’s not saying much when Now You See Me 2 is the filmic equivalent of someone stumbling around in the dark looking for a switch labeled, “Quality Filmmaking”.
Oh, and when asked about the budding romance between Franco and Caplan's characters, don't be surprised. I didn't pick up on it, either.
Unfortunately, due to decent box office returns, it’s to be expected that a third, presumably final, entry will eventually materialize to complete a needless trilogy and remind us why Now You See Me never needed sequels in the first place. Both films do leave a variety of questions unanswered, and any time a film does that it’s always a risky endeavor, as it’s ensuring that further films will soon follow to answer said questions-never a good thing (I’m looking at you, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Instead of trying to stand on its own feet as a decent film, Now You See Me 2 attempts to rehash much of what made the original a damn fun time, while also moving the story forward and setting up future adventures all at once. In other sequels, this usually works, even if only slightly, but thanks to bad acting, a terrible screenplay and an assembly line-esque directing style, Now You See Me 2 is one movie that lacks the magic any great sequel, let alone movie, should have, and by the wave of a real magician’s hand, should truly just disappear.