‘Now you see me 2’, directed by Jon Chu, hustles and cons the viewer into stepping into the cinematic equivalent of a washing machine, and then … whoosh … you’re off! Although you’ll feel as if you are travelling at a million miles an hour, you’ll actually be suffering from an illusion because you are simply spinning around and around, getting nowhere and with nothing making sense. Sometimes the spin cycle is frenetic and other times, it is more gentle. But have no doubt, The Four Horsemen of the original movie, produce plenty of magic, hypnotism and illusion, whether it’s needed for the plotline or not.
The premise of the original ‘Now you see me’ was reasonably straight-forward. The Four Horsemen incorporated a Robin-Hood type bank heist as part of their Vegas show and then were pursued by the FBI, specifically Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). The sequel brings back Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merrit (Woody Harrelson), Jack (Dave Franco) and Lula (Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher), but this time there’s some added menace. A cherubically intimidating Walter (Daniel Radcliffe), representing all the evils of corporate surveillance and bully-boy big business interests, orders The Four Horsemen to steal an amazing piece of technology. A chip which is held in a vault in Macau, once procured, will enable anything, anywhere to be de-crypted. Meanwhile the members of a secret organisation, ‘The Eye’ are not happy that Walter – and his dad – will be able to control the world’s computers and they step in to assist the four horsemen. Do not ask who they are or who is in control of them or why “The Eye” are the only ones in the know about Walter’s plan … it’s a secret!
I enjoy the kaleidoscopic surprises inherent in watching magic; the fizz and pop that goes with sleight of hand, the rainbow rupture use of distractions and the pom-pom flash of great cardistry. But, too often in this film, Chu included a great routine, simply because it was a flashy routine, and not because it was necessary. For instance, Eisenberg’s character Atlas removes several disguises early in the film, not because anyone has recognised him, or there is any danger of him being exposed, but simply to be ‘showy’, like a card magician doing a flourish. Another example is the dazzling demonstration of card throwing which seems to serve to make the audience gasp and gape for an extended period, rather than serve a completely necessary function. Similarly, the film serves up Merrick’s evil twin (also played by Harrelson), with a gleaming set of fake dentures, and then does little more than clutter the script with witty banter between the siblings. All this is like a magician who is too in love with his own cleverness, who struts about pulling rabbits out of hats, and flowers out of canes, while the audience fidgets and wonders when the main act will start.
During ‘Now you see me 2’ a back story for Rhodes is revealed and links are made between him a Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). This adds to the confusion, as the film twists and jinks along, until eventually arriving at a BIG REVEAL, in the climatic ending, set in London. Mark Ruffalo plays his part superbly, never veering into an ironic delivery to suggest that he might know more than the audience about what is going on. Freeman tries hard, but there are times when he seems to get weary of the ‘whose fooling who’ motif. This, plot device, combined with the use of doubles, theatrically dim lighting and flawlessly perfect (only-happens-in-the movies) synchronization, makes the film’s absurd moments disappear within the frenetic pace.
Overall, ‘Now you see me 2’ is a visually bewitching and entertaining film, but one where it would help to have a pause button to hand so that the shimmering, twinkling, magical scenarios can be understood and consumed, before moving on to the next. Fortunately, I watched the film with a tame magician to hand, who helped ease my sense of cinematic indigestion, by explaining all the action of the film afterwards. Only then, did much of the film make sense to me.