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Film review: Now You See Me 2: was the sequel worth the effort?

The flashy return of the Four Horsemen is spoilt by a wealthy tech whizz bent on revenge.
Lizzy Caplan and Dave Franco in Now You See Me 2. Courtesy Lions Gate / Everett / REX / Shutterstock
Lizzy Caplan and Dave Franco in Now You See Me 2. Courtesy Lions Gate / Everett / REX / Shutterstock

Now Your See Me 2

Director: Jon M Chu

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Two-and-a-half stars

Magician heist-thriller sequel Now You See Me 2 disappears not in puff of smoke, but in a hyper-kinetic blur of hectic plot mechanics, ceaselessly nattering characters and so many misdirections that the film’s own direction apparently disappeared up someone’s sleeve long ago.

Now you see it, now you don’t. Did you care that you saw it? Why did you see it? Is that why you look like you need a nap?

The cast is one reason to catch Jon M Chu’s sequel to director Louis Leterrier’s surprise 2013 hit. It is an odd assortment, but a talented one that includes ­heavyweights Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. They don’t get the chance to sink their teeth into anything much of substance, it’s true, but in the summertime you usually need to buy a ticket to a superhero movie to see such an ensemble.

And there’s something almost quaint about the Now You See Me films. They are diverting and harmless – and the fate of the world, refreshingly, does not hang in the balance. They’re perfect for fans of Ocean’s Eleven who are looking for weaker filmmaking, a little less star power but a whole lot more playing cards.

The Four Horsemen, having gone into hiding following their Las Vegas exploits in the first film, have returned. They are a group of magicians led – curiously, given the alternatives – by Jesse Eisenberg’s sleight-of-hand artist.

He is joined by Harrelson’s hypnotist and Dave Franco’s street magician. Isla Fisher’s escapologist Henley Reeves is missing from the sequel, replaced by new addition Lula May (Lizzy Caplan) whose sarcastic flare steals the movie. The Horsemen are like a fantasy imagined by David Copperfield, a co-­producer whose illusions inspired the films. When not trying to one-up each other’s tricks, the Horsemen perform feats of illusion that unmask real corruption. In the world of Now You See Me, they are extravagantly (and bizarrely) famous, cheered by mobs on the streets and pursued in vain by the feds (Ruffalo plays the lead agent).

In Now You See Me 2, their flashy return is spoilt by a wealthy tech whizz in hiding (Daniel Radcliffe), who constructs an elaborate revenge against the magicians that transports them around the globe to Macau, presumably for the purpose of drawing in Chinese moviegoers.

The movie, scripted by Ed Solomon, offers such a constant barrage of absurdly implausible tricks, followed by explanations of how they were done, that Now You See Me 2 feels like the work of a feverish, manic magician who can’t stop pulling rabbits out of hats.

Chu, a veteran of multiple Justin Bieber documentaries and several Step Up films, cranks up the pace and never holds a shot for much longer than a second. When everything is a manipulation – one illusion after another – nothing comes as a surprise.

It feels like a lost opportunity, because both films have a pleasant enough preposterousness. It’s hard to dislike a movie that adds a curly-haired evil twin brother for Woody Harrelson.

But magic always feels a little redundant in the movies. Cinema is a grand magic act in its own right that never gives away its tricks – well, except in the director’s commentaries.

Maybe that’s why Now You See Me 2 can’t slow down. It knows it’s always being upstaged by the hocus-pocus of its own medium.

Now You See Me 2 is in cinemas now

Updated: June 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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