Now You See Me was a perfectly enjoyable, albeit flawed standalone film with a few fabulous stunts and an under-utilized cast. But it hardly warrants a sequel, much less an actual franchise. Now You See Me 3 was greenlit by Lionsgate before the sequel was even released. After all, it’s 2016, the only prerequisite for a second and third instalment is a film that garners a whole lot of cash, even if it receives widely mixed reviews and likely won’t be remembered in five or ten years.
Now You See Me concluded with the reveal that Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent Dylan Rhodes was secretly orchestrating every move made by the four horsemen as a means to carry out a thirty-year personal vendetta and to welcome the four into the fold of an ancient order of magicians, The Eye. A year has passed since then and the remaining horsemen (sans Isla Fisher) are in hiding, waiting for Dylan, and by extension, The Eye to give them instructions for their next big heist to prove their worthiness.
Enter Lula (Lizzy Caplan), a seemingly green and overly enthusiastic magician added to the horsemen to inject “some femininity” into the now male-led group (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Dave Franco). Fisher reportedly stepped away from the project due to her pregnancy, allowing the always-charming Caplan to take her place as the sole female horseman. Caplan fits into the quartet rather seamlessly and even has a chance to poke fun at some of the film’s underlying sexism; “Gee, I wonder who gets to play the bimbo?”
Where its predecessor tended to switch locations, the action in Now You See Me 2 is largely relegated to Macau, China. After a heist on Tech Company Octa goes terribly wrong and exposes both Dylan and the Horsemen, the group suddenly find themselves in China with no recollection of how they got there. Daniel Radcliffe is introduced as the newest villain of the piece as Walter, a millionaire in hiding who extorts the horseman into stealing a piece of technology that has the ability to control all computers, stock markets and the government. While it’s always a little bit of a thrill to see Radcliffe outside of Hogwarts, he doesn’t get much to do other than gleefully offer exposition.
Admittedly, there are some magnificent illusions and acts of misdirection in this sequel, including a fantastic extended sequence that involves only a single playing card and some seriously intricate sleight of hand that manages to be the most tension-filled scene in the entire film. Daniel Atlas’ (Eisenberg) trick performed with rain, previewed in the trailer, is another of the film’s more mesmerising moments.
Unfortunately, this magic-filled thriller is bogged down by the subplot of Dylan’s father’s death, a character that only appeared momentarily in both films via flashback. The ramifications of his death are given far too much weight and seem to be explored only for a chance to bring back Morgan Freeman, whose lingering presence sadly clutters the film. Additionally, too much screen time is dedicated to The Eye. The idea that the horsemen are underdogs and uniquely clever criminals is far more intriguing than the idea of the four performers training under some ancient order illusionists.
Now You See Me 2 could have benefitted from focusing more intensely on fewer plot threads, rather than attempting to outdo itself with endless and confusing reveals and trying to dole out screen time for characters that could have been left behind in the original (sorry Michael Caine). Perhaps the next sequel can finally get it together.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10