Now You See Me 2 review – is the magic back?

Now You See Me 2 has little fresh up its sleeve, but is still fun

Now You See Me 2 proves it’s hard to nail the same trick twice. There’s still some fun to be had, but this is a second act that’s definitely not as magical as the first.

Unlike some other sequels this year, there was actual interest in further adventures of the magical heist squad known as The Four Horsemen.  Whereas the first film juggled a sometimes too complex mystery/heist hybrid, the sequel is a lot more playful in tone and eager to please.  If the 2013 original was a magic/illusionist take on The Usual Suspects, the sequel is a free-wheeling Ocean’s Eleven homage.

While some sequels can be easy to follow along for newcomers, Now You See Me 2 requires watching the first film is essential to understand the relationships and character dynamics.

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After their last big performance, the Horsemen — Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Neighbors) — have been kept underground. Their leader, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, Avengers: Age of Ultron), is busy keeping the FBI off their trail while they’re itching to get back into action.

Now You See Me 2 - Mark Ruffalo

Just as the Horsemen stage their comeback, tech genius Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) crashes their act and kidnaps them. Mabry wants the Horsemen to steal a tech device that would have staggering consequences on the world if they can’t stop him first. But when old enemies Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, London Has Fallen) and Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, Interstellar) resurface the Horsemen will need all their ingenuity to come out ahead and alive.

Easily the most obvious difference in Now You See Me 2 is the Horsemen have a new member. Shock illusionist Lula (Lizzy Caplan) joins the crew since Isla Fisher was pregnant and wasn’t available to return.

Given the personal nature of the plot, swapping out one of the main characters from the first film wasn’t ideal. The basis of the sequel revolves around events from the first film. Bringing in a newcomer with none of those shared experiences never fully clicks. Lula is fun, but she never feels more than an outsider tagging along for the ride.

Now You See Me 2 - Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan and Henry Lloyd Hughes-minThat’s no knock on Caplan, who is as charming as ever. The all-boys club definitely needed charming dynamic to the all-boys club. If anything Lula would have been a better addition to the cast along with Henley — not as her fill-in.

Eisenberg’s mannerisms and delivery works in a particular type of role and Atlas is one of his better characters. Ruffalo carries the right amount of conviction and cockiness. After establishing his career playing one of the great heroic characters of this generation, Radcliffe is surprisingly effective as a villain.

While the first film had this clever cat and mouse feel as the horsemen try to stay one step ahead of the FBI, they’re more like a halfhearted obstacle here. Poor Sanaa Lathan gets little to do beyond playing generic FBI Deputy Director Natalie Austin in an all-around waste of her talent. At least Natalie avoids the forced cliché romance like Lula.

Now You See Me 2 - Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine and Varada Sethu

Instead of continuing the magical Robin Hood theme of the first film, Director Jon Chu (G.I. Joe Retaliation) steers the franchise to more of an action heist escapade. That’s not necessarily a bad move since the audience is better informed of what to expect in the series. Re-enacting the same story beats in different locations wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying the second go-round.

Screenwriter Ed Solomon misjudged what worked so well previously. Instead of crafting a smoke and mirrors style script full of misdirection that worked on the strength of the ensemble, Solomon doubles up on the comedy. Most of those scenes fall flat. The biggest offender is a character decision involving Harrelson that never delivers the laughs the filmmakers intended.

Similar to the original, the magic tricks are the biggest attraction. The final sequence with the all-out bells and whistles is terrific, but a simpler sleight of hand card scene arguably steals the show.

Now You See Me 2 - Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe, Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson

Fans of the first film should enjoy Now You See Me 2 enough. It’s no game changer and is just a decent way to kill a couple of hours. Sometimes that’s all the magic a film needs.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Photo Credit: Jay Maidment

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