Leading up to the release of “Now You See Me: The Second Act,” my younger siblings and I enjoyed making up our own continuations off of the first film’s story — filling in the narrative gaps of each character’s past, predicting which egotistic billionaire they’d expose next and, of course, how they’d do it. After watching the sequel, I realized that I actually preferred being left to imaginative speculation.
Other than Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, “The Avengers”) still living his double life as an FBI Agent and leader of the horsemen and Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, “The Shawshank Redemption”) still serving his jail sentence, the second act feels like a completely different film. As for the horsemen, they’re getting antsy because they haven’t been able to perform magic in quite some time. Though, with Henley (Isla Fisher, “Home and Away”) having left them, Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, “Now You See Me”) and Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, “No Country for Old Men”) are relishing their time as a testosterone-heavy trio. The action finally picks up once Dylan provides the trio with a new mission and a new horseman, Lula (Lizzy Caplan, “Cloverfield”). After this comeback act goes haywire, the horsemen suddenly find themselves in Macau, China trying to get out of a predicament involving both old and new enemies.
Ultimately, the film’s biggest weakness is its lack of focus. It gets too caught up trying to be flashy and grandiose, causing it to fail in providing its audience some substance. Instead of following one main story and accompanying this with supporting ideas, the entire film is a chaotic compilation of subplots. Attempting to satisfy viewers’ expectations, it does try to fill in the missing pieces of Dylan’s backstory, but this is quickly overshadowed by the threat, a terribly miscast Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”). There’s also both sexual and conflictual tension brewing among the horsemen; Daniel is trying to take over as leader and Lula and Jack are an unnecessary romantic addition to the story. On top of it all, the chess match between Dylan and Thaddeus that started in the first film carries into this one. Up until the ending that ties up everything too nicely, Dylan and Thaddeus’s quarrels serve no purpose except to show they’re good at getting on each other’s nerves. Seemingly enough, unlike the original “Now You See Me,” the sequel isn’t full of fun, surprising twists but is completely predictable and filled with a variety of outrageously confusing events.
Visually, there’s no doubt as to how production costs for this film were around $90 million — scenes lacking computer generated images are few and far between, indicating money spent on grand sets and environments. Unfortunately, this functions as a double edged sword — while most of the ‘tricks’ are impressive, especially when coupled with sleek camera movements, the sheer abundance of them takes away from their spectacular nature. Particularly, the scene in which the camera follows a special playing card as it travels from horseman to horseman around drags on for far too long. This, in turn, makes their ability to keep the card undetectable is unbelievable, but not awe-inspiring.
Ed Solomon’s script has its moments of greatness, but it disappoints as a whole. Despite that, the actors’ talent and ability to deliver allow rare instances of wit to achieve their intended comedic effect. Furthermore, the natural on-screen chemistry between the actors, especially Eisenberg and Harrelson, elevates the humor of the constant banter. A highlight during one of these exchanges is when Merritt rattles off a string of insulting nicknames for Danny and Danny retorts by asking Merritt if he’s become a walking thesaurus.
The mystifying effects of magic tricks don’t end once the magician stops performing them. The audience members continue to wonder how the trick was pulled off hours, even days after. Due to its dominance of visuals and lack of substance, “Now You See Me: The Second Act” has the opposite effect on its viewers: exiting their minds quickly and leaving nothing meaningful behind.