Now You See Me 2 (which some thought to be an unnecessary sequel) has once again bottled lightning to Lionsgate’s relief. Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me *somehow* brought coolness to magic’s stigmatic nature, and – against all odds – Jon M. Chu’s sequel exceeds said coolness. Duelling magicians square off once again in a spectacular battle of illusionist wits, where perception is fooled and wonder trumps all. Ed Solomon and Pete Chiarelli’s heist is more than smoke an mirrors – a social warning preys upon tech-y paranoias, however preachy (and outlandish) it may be – which makes this exciting, spellbinding blockbuster worth the price of admission. This isn’t just any sideshow – these badass wizards of manipulation are the main attraction.
After avoiding the public eye for some time, the Four (now Three) Horsemen are ready to tackle their next big event. Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Jack (Dave Franco), and Merritt (Woody Harrelson) emerge from hiding with the help of their boss, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and Henley’s energetic replacement, Lula (Lizzy Caplan). This time around, Dylan’s magician warriors set out to expose an Apple-like company who plan on mining – and profiting off of – a user’s personal data. This doesn’t sit well with the Horsemen, who hatch a plan that goes horribly awry. Dylan finds his identity outed, the Horsemen are pegged as international criminals and hope seems lost – but a little magic goes a long way.
I know what you’re thinking – magic is lame in real life, so how does a movie entrance audiences with “fake” magic? Well, pretty easily given how Jon M. Chu makes Now You See Me 2 all about electrifying, hypnotizing spectacles. Chu’s team injects a sexiness into the magic game, and enjoys combining the worlds of Ocean’s 11 and Criss Angel with better-than-expected results. There’s an entire slight-of-hand scene where the Horsemen pass a playing-card-sized computer chip around while being thoroughly searched, as we follow the card like giddy, wide-eyed children of wonder. Unlike that creepy, cut-rate magician who ruins birthday parties, this crazy production is balls-out, mind-bending fun with an emphasis on eccentric criminal actioneering.
Then again, without trained showmen, Now You See Me 2 would be nothing but flat mind-games – but the Horsemen are back, and with the addition of Lizzy Caplan, they’re better than ever.
Like any great magician, this collective of actors all do a magnificent job of cockily pulling off tricks with a glowing, commanding charisma, yet remain playful and inquisitive. Jesse Eisenberg’s typically unenthusiastic charms work well in the beguiling world of magic, Dave Franco’s boyish likability scores laughs and Woody Harrelson crushes it as crazy Woody Harrelson (no explanation needed) – but it’s Caplan who ties a tighter knot between the team. Caplan’s fangirl-happy addition unites the Horsemen through her goofy, non-stop pestering, as she wins over audiences from her very first death-defying illusion.
But for as radiant and hilarious as Caplan’s Lulu is, it’s Harrelson who steals the show in ways I’ll leave a surprise. I’ve deleted this sentence five different times because I keep wanting to reveal the hilarity, but I mustn’t. Caplan is a hoot, Mark Ruffalo lets his double-life spin destructively out of control, Morgan Freeman orchestrates a dangerous game, but Harrelson has too much fun stealing this unbelievable show.
Most interestingly, Now You See Me 2 is all about control, and the illusion it creates. No matter how many twists reveal themselves, and despite always thinking we’ve worked out Chu’s pattern, WHAM – the smoke clears, and we’re headed in a new direction. Chu constantly shuffles his deck, and awes us every time he pulls our card. Illusions are meant to entertain, but the way that Solomon’s script manipulates control is balanced, cheeky and worth the continual shifts in momentum. Satisfaction comes by means of false confidence, even when backs are against the wall. We know the Horsemen will prevail somehow, and it’s that anticipatory “HOW” that never fails to excite.
Watching magic for two hours would certainly test most audiences, but there’s more to Now You See Me 2 than vanishing acts and feats of improbability. Chu’s team toys with your senses, tempts your mind and leads you to places that unlock a wondrous feeling of juvenile, criminally savvy entertainment. For those of us still holding onto a more whimsical sense of adventure, Chu offers release in the form of a flashy, spotlight-directed Vegas event. The neon fluorescents are bright and the performances brighter – this is showmanship with flare, style and grace to spare.
Jon M. Chu deserves an award for making a two-hour movie about magic interesting, exciting, and pretty damn fun.