The Four Horsemen return for a second mind-bending adventure, elevating the limits of stage illusion to new heights in hopes of clearing their names and exposing the ruthlessness of a dangerous tech magnate.
Knowing that my review copy of this sequel was on the way, and not having seen the original in a while, I decided to go back and watch Now You See Me to refresh my memory of these characters going into this review. Upon re-watching the first movie, I was impressed all over again at how quickly that film latches onto the viewer and doesn't let go until the final frames. Sure, parts of its plotting are preposterous, but for entertainment value alone, that film is a real gem. I'd like to tell you the sequel follows in the original's footsteps, but sadly the magic is all gone.
Often (too often, honestly) I'll review a movie and come to the conclusion that the screenplay probably could have used one or two more re-writes before going in front of the camera. 'Now You See Me 2' has the opposite problem. Instead of giving the impression of a screenplay that is "undercooked", it feels like one that has spent too long on the burner...as if they felt what they had originally wasn't enough – so they kept adding stuff and adding stuff. This is a movie that desperately needs to allow its characters (of which there are many) to breathe, but the filmmakers are afraid they might bore the audience if the action doesn't keep moving...not knowing that the endless action is actually what is causing us to lose interest.
One thing I will give the movie credit for is that it at least tries to be a continuation of the original story, rather than just another re-hash or re-telling of the first movie. Before I get into what's been going on with some of these characters, let's first talk about who's not back for the sequel. Gone is Isla Fisher (who played Henley), reportedly because the actress was pregnant right when this follow-up started shooting. She's explained away in a line of dialogue about her leaving the Horsemen group. Also missing – and this time with no reason given – is actress Mélanie Laurent (who played Interpol agent Alma Dray), despite the fact that the last movie ended with her seemingly at the start of a long-term relationship with FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).
Speaking of Agent Rhodes, a year has passed since the events of the first film, yet the FBI still hasn't figured out he was assisting the Horsemen in the first movie and Rhodes is still making a career out of trying to track them down. But don't worry...the movie doesn't ask the audience to go with this for too long, as Rhodes is outed (as is Horseman Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), who the public still believes died in the car crash seen in the first film) by a mysterious villain who exposes all the Horsemen's secrets at a major media event.
The Horsemen – who have been joined by newcomer Lula May (Lizzie Caplan) – wind up in Macau, China, where they meet the man who has been taunting them, Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who has a few hidden secrets up his sleeve as well. Mabry wants the Horsemen to use their theft skills to obtain a computer chip from a high-security building. The chip has the ability to break through the encryption on any computer in the world (yeah, whatever). Meanwhile, back in the United States, Rhodes breaks Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) out of prison in order to gain his assistance in finding out where the Horsemen have disappeared to.
And that's just the start of the story, which continues to get more needlessly complex as things unfold. Instead of going into all that, let's talk a little about why this sequel just doesn't work. First of all, the fun of the original movie came from all those moments where the Horsemen were performing an illusion in front of an audience. Whether it was robbing a bank on the other side of the world or magically moving money in to the accounts of audience members, those scenes had viewers glued to the screen because they were immensely entertaining. This time around, the Horsemen don't even perform for an audience until the end of the movie – and it's not for any audience gain...this time, it's just to get themselves out of trouble.
Also, for all the fun and humor of the first film, it never delved into caricatures. That's not the case here, as Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) meets up with his twin brother, Chase (also played by Harrelson), who is so over-the-top, the presence of his character pretty much sinks the whole film. I have no idea who thought this was a good idea (Did the filmmakers use this as a ploy to get Woody back for the sequel?), but it's a huge misfire.
I won't break down the preposterousness of most of the action scenes in 'Now You See Me 2' (the final one is a doozy, by price tag standards alone), but I do want to talk about one that really annoyed me. During the scene where the four Horsemen are trying to smuggle the computer chip out of the high-security building, they attach it to the back of a playing card. The four of them are being searched before they leave, so Jack (who has the card first) moves it from hand to hand, front to back, and up and down his sleeve as he is being searched, so the guards can't see it/feel it. Then, for no reason whatsoever, he tosses the card to another Horseman, who then uses slight of hand in the same way. This goes on from Horseman to Horseman to Horseman for a good five minutes. Meanwhile the audience is sitting there thinking if Jack had just held onto the card we wouldn't have to watch this, since they were done searching him! It's one of those scenes that looks cool on paper as an effects sequence (and make no mistake, this almost all done with CGI), but makes you want to slap the screenwriter that wrote it. I'm actually surprised no one on set brought up how stupid it made these characters – who are supposed to be borderline geniuses – look.
And that's pretty much what 'Now You See Me 2' is – a sequel that's even more unrealistic but not nearly as much fun as the film that came before it. Only the actors themselves and some cool visuals make this movie totally dismissible. It's a huge letdown though, and something most viewers will not want to sit through more than once.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Now You See Me 2' appears on Blu-ray in a combo pack, which contains a dual-layer DVD and a digital code insert (UltraViolet or iTunes) in addition to the 50GB Blu-ray. The discs are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, and a slipcover with a lenticular image (matching that of the keepcase, except the actors disappear when you rotate the cover) slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for 'Deepwater Horizon', 'Nerve', Allegiant, The Last Witch Hunter, and the 4-movie complete collection of The Hunger Games. The main menu is a montage of the main characters' faces with footage from the movie playing behind them. Menu selections are listed horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Now You See Me 2' was shot digitally, primarily on Arri Alexa XT Plus equipment, and is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. As is the case with most recently shot movies on the digital format, the quality of the image here is pretty good, with bright colors and defined textures and skin tones.
The only small caveat I have about the image is that the black levels in some of the darker sequences (of which there are a lot) aren't quite as inky deep as I've seen on other titles, so while shadow delineation is still pretty good, it's not perfect.
In terms of other glitches, I didn't notice much in terms of aliasing or banding, but I did notice a bit of noise creeping into the background of shots every now and again. It not a pixilated look as much as it appears to be a slight grain over the image. It's nothing too distracting and will most likely be noticed by only those with particularly large screens or projectors.
The featured track here is an English Atmos one, which downgrades to a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track for those without an Atmos set-up. As one might expect, the audio is quite good here, with clear, distinct dialogue (most, but not all, of it front and center) and some effective LFE use throughout. However, when it comes to immersiveness...particularly with the added dimensions that Atmos can provide, there's not a whole lot to speak about.
The only two really effective aural moments in the movie are toward the beginning, when the Jesse Eisenberg's character hears from what he believes is the voice of "The Eye" and the mysterious person's voice is bounced from speaker to speaker. The other quite noticeable moment comes late in the movie when the various Horsemen are showing off their magic (separately) to various citizens of London. There, the audio shows off some immersiveness once again, particularly during the Eisenberg character's manipulation of a rain storm.
Overall, the mix is pretty good here, and those picking this one up for the Atmos track should be moderately pleased...this isn't the best the format has to offer, but you won't feel like you're not at least getting your money's worth from the high-end audio.
In addition to the Atmos English track, the Blu-ray also includes audio tracks in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Dolby Digital (Optimized for Late Night Listening), and English Descriptive Audio. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
I was a fan of the first film, but the second installment doesn't contain nearly as much fun. In addition to an overly convoluted plot, this sequel forgets that the appeal of the first movie was watching all the tricks and illusions the main characters presented to an audience. The only magic this movie provides is the ability to forget about it pretty quickly after viewing it. This one's worth a rental, but you're probably not going to want to own it.