Now You See Me 2 is the sequel to the 2013 film and just like the original it’s fine. The structure is deeply flawed, the plot is unfocused and it’s thematically toothless. And yet, it’s fine. Now that is interesting. How can a film so poorly assembled still achieve the rank of “fine”? Basically, they doubled down on silly set pieces and competent character-design. When your premise is “thief magicians” that’s probably a good way to go.
The story is that the Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan) are a group of thief magicians and who have been in hiding since the events of the first movie. They come out to pull off a job but get exposed by the villain for today’s proceedings, Walter (Daniel Radcliffe). He forces them into stealing a chip that can hack into any computer in the world or he’ll kill them. Can the Horseman do what they do and outwit everyone around them?
Look, to get on board with this you have to accept how silly the whole idea is. This is my third time writing the phrase “thief magicians” and it won’t be the last because I love the idea so much. It’s a perfect idea for a heist movie in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven which at its heart is all about planning and misdirection. They are also about cartoonishly silly set pieces and Now You See Me 2 has those in spades. The standout for me is the scene where they are stealing the microchip using only their cardistry skills. It might over-stay its welcome slightly but is still quite an enjoyable scene on its own.
However, the set pieces, I believe, are in part to blame for a lot of the film’s issues. Not because they feel out-of-place or mess with the tone but because it feels like they were the focus of the film, rather than structure or plot. Set pieces can be fun on their own but are most rewarding when happening within a tight structure. This movie should have been a pure heist movie and I don’t know why it isn’t. Mild spoilers but they steal the chip late in act two and the heist movie ends there. After that I don’t know what it becomes but I know it would have been a far more gratifying experience if it stuck to heist movie structure. Get the job, plan the job, execute the job, screw over antagonists. A simple but effective structure that allows for strong character development and set pieces. It’s just a shame Now You See Me 2 didn’t use it because it’s set pieces were strong and its characters solid.
When I say solid what I mean is they have clearly defined personalities but the fly in the ointment is that arcs are set up and most don’t payoff. The big example of this is Jesse Eisenberg’s story about ego and trusting one’s team. It’s set up as the central arc and in the end, yeah he trusts his team but I don’t know how he got there. It goes back to structure again. The overly complicated structure they went with made it more difficult for them to create meaningful character arcs which also lead to them not being able to discuss with any kind of seriousness the random themes they put into this movie. Like the Science vs. Magic theme that goes absolutely nowhere. The take home from this is that simple structures allow for rewarding character arcs and enable gratifying set pieces. You should not design the latter without having a structure in mind.
Due to all the factors we have discussed, Now You See Me 2 is fine but completely forgettable. Thief Magicians. There. I told you it wasn’t the last.
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