In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to see one of the world's most notable magicians twice during a six-month period – once in my hometown and again in a Las Vegas performance. At that time, the magician's show-ending illusion involved a trick where he would randomly select an audience member and then 'teleport' the person and himself to a desert island where that person would have a reunion with a long-lost loved one. The illusion is pretty stunning, and wows the audience. But when I saw said magician the second time, I noticed that the random person in the audience wasn't random at at all – it was the same guy (in the same clothes, no less!) that was used in my hometown. It didn't take me long to figure out how the majority of the trick worked. You see, knowing how an illusion is done tends to take all the fun out of it.
The same can be said of 'Now You See Me', a film that is an absolute blast the first time through, but loses some of its magic upon repeat viewings. The main reason for this is because as the movie progresses, the audience is shown how the illusions done earlier in the film were achieved. So upon repeat viewings of the movie, one already knows all the secrets. The film's plot also hinges on the revelation of a mystery person and, again, once one discovers (or figures out) who that person might be in the movie, 'Now You See Me' loses much of its fun.
The film opens by introducing viewers to the four magicians who are the lead characters of the movie. The opening shot is a dandy, as illusionist J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) does one of those 'pick a card, any card' tricks that will immediately get the home viewer's attention. Why? Because through some creative CGI trickery, the makers of this movie have assured that the card picked in the movie will most likely be picked by the viewer as well, making the first 'trick' of the film an indication of how much fun this movie is going to provide. Viewers are then, in turn, introduced to mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and street magician Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – all of whom have their own equally-entertaining introductions.
The four magicians are brought together when each receives a mysterious tarot card with a date and address on it. When the four arrive and meet each other at the determined location (an abandoned apartment in New York City), they discover blueprints for a grand illusion. But who sent the four to the apartment and gave them the blueprints is one of 'Now You See Me's big mysteries.
The film then picks up a year later, with the four magicians – who have named themselves 'The Four Horsemen' - premiering their new illusion in Las Vegas. Without ruining the details of what happens on screen (or ruining the explanation viewers will learn shortly thereafter), The Four Horsemen rob a bank…in Paris…and are able to 'teleport' the money into the stadium where they are performing. The crowd goes wild, as does the FBI, but for obviously different reasons.
The FBI unit in Las Vegas is headed up by Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo – meaning that Director Louis Leterrier has now directed both the 'old' Hulk and the 'new' one!) who is joined by Interpol agent Alma Drey (Mélanie Laurent) in trying to both pin the crime on The Four Horsemen and prevent their next criminal act. Also along for the ride are former magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who now makes a living debunking other magicians; and Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), who is The Four Horseman's benefactor and promoter.
As noted above, the biggest problem with 'Now You See Me' is that once you know the movie's secrets, there's really not an incentive to watch it again. I've heard many say that the big reveal of the mysterious 'Fifth Horseman' is a bit of a cheat, but having watched the film a second time (albeit to check out the Extended Cut, which is also part of the Blu-ray), I'm not sure that's really the case. I will say that there are some questions of logic involved (our mystery character needs to be exactly in the right place at the right time to obtain needed information and events planned by the 'Four Horseman' tend to go off without one hitch, and thus seem highly implausible) but I don't necessarily feel the movie 'cheats' the viewer, although I can see how some might feel that way.
Overall though, this is a pretty fun piece of entertainment. What the film lacks in believability, it more than makes up for in interesting set pieces, illusions (mostly done by CGI, although we're told on the Blu-ray extras that they're plausible), and action sequences. In the end, 'Now You See Me' has all the nutritional value of a bucket of popcorn, but it sure does taste good going down.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Now You See Me' appears on Blu-ray in a DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo pack. The discs are housed in an eco-friendly keepcase with a slipcover that matches the slick. The only insert contains the code for both an iTunes and Ultraviolet digital version of the film. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for 'Catching Fire', 'Ender's Game', and Red 2. The Blu-ray menu is a combination of moving stills of the main characters intermixed with video montages of footage from the movie. Menu selections run across the bottom of the screen, and then open up to a left-side list once selected.
'Now You See Me' was shot on 35mm film and contains a ton of scenes that are both dimly lit and rely on visible spotlights/stage lights for the image. Therefore, I had a concern that both banding and black levels might be a big issue with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 Blu-ray transfer. Thankfully, neither are much of an issue at all. Black levels are quite strong, despite a few moments here and there where shadows prove hard to distinguish. Likewise, despite all the lights that are part of the stage shows in the movie, banding never seems to be a problem. Lens flares are the most annoying thing, but that's a filmmaker issue and has nothing to do with this transfer (and keep in mind that Star Trek producers Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman were also producers on this movie, so maybe they convinced Louis Leterrier that lens flares look cool). Film grain is still present, although nicely pushed into the background.
While both facial details and backgrounds are sharp throughout, I did notice a slight inconsistency in skin tones from scene to scene. While skin tones look normal in most exterior sequences (as well as during the stage performances), they sometimes look a little oversaturated in some of the interior set scenes. Again, a large part of this is probably just the difference between natural lighting, the visible lighting of the stage segments, and the professional camera lighting of the stuff shot on sets.
All of the above are minor quibbles, and most will not even be noticed except by the most discerning of viewers. Overall, this is an excellent transfer by Summit/Lionsgate, and the movie looks great in HD.
For full disclosure before discussing the audio, the mix here is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, and I only have a 5.1 setup, so my reactions to the audio are those of a 7.1 track downmixed into 5.1, rather than being able to hear the full distinctness of the 7.1 track. With that in mind, I found the audio to be just as well-done as the video transfer is. Big releases like 'Now You See Me' often tend to amp up the sounds and soundtrack at the expense of the spoken dialogue, but everything seems to be properly mixed here. Big explosions or events in the film still have the 'umph' they're supposed to without any high-end distortion, while quieter scenes still have subtle background noises. So the dynamic range throughout is excellent.
In addition to the 7.1 lossless track, the Blu-ray includes a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that has been 'optimized for late night listening', whatever that is supposed to mean. I suspect it's just code for, 'hey, you'll only be getting audio from your front speakers, so it won't wake the neighbors'. There's also an English Descriptive Audio track as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
Please note, although the extras listed in this section are also contained on the stand-alone DVD release of 'Now You See Me', the DVD version contained in this combo pack is a movie-only DVD and does not contain any extras.
Although it's not nearly as much fun the second time around, 'Now You See Me' is still an exciting rollercoaster ride of a movie that provides some top-notch entertainment. Enjoying the movie (especially during that second or third viewing) requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief, but most should find it worth their time and money. Recommended.