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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I have a weird thing where I’ve seen a bunch of sequels in movie theaters without seeing the originals first. I saw Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen on opening weekend for some reason. I caught a mid-day showing of The Hangover 2 when it was released a handful of years back out of sheer boredom. I saw Scary Movie 2 in theaters twice, for fuck’s sake! What is wrong with me? Well, it happened again with Now You See Me 2, except this time the movie was actually pretty good. I’ve never seen the original, but I was able to easily follow the highly cerebral storyline without a hitch. I had a lot of fun making assumptions about characters and then letting the movie fill in the blanks. I recommend it!
Now You See Me 2, directed by John Chu (who also took over the GI: Joe film franchise), is the sequel of course to the 2013 film Now You See Me, which became a surprise global hit that fell nowhere on my radar. Starring, among others, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, the film concerns a group of magician thieves called The Horsemen, and their apparent plot to take down a corrupt insurance magnate and a black guy played by Morgan Freeman. The sequel ditches Isla Fisher (who couldn’t reprise due to pregnancy) for that girl from Mean Girls (not Lindsey Lohan) whose name I won’t bother to look up. She’s ok. Also joining the cast is a bearded, elfin, cracked-out Daniel Radcliffe, who of course played Harry Potter. Mark Ruffalo and James Franco’s little brother round out the cast.
The plot of this movie is ridiculous and incomprehensible but involves The Horseman stealing a computer chip that will allow Daniel Radcliffe to erase his digital footprint and maybe do something else quite heinous. It doesn’t really matter because this movie is pure style over substance in the best way possible. Each of the The Horsemen has a different “magic power” that they use a few times during the film. Woody Harrelson is a hypnotist, for example. Chu’s direction really puts a spotlight on the magic tricks and works well. Harrelson’s hypnosis, Franco’s card throwing, Eisenberg’s slight of hand, and Mean Girls girl’s escape acts (maybe?) are all stellar and intense.
You wouldn’t think the special effects would be a highlight in a movie like this, but damned if it doesn’t look fantastic. There’s a scene where Eisenberg uses his magician’s prowess to stop rain in the middle of the air and it looks gorgeous. The background music is also really well done. Again, Chu is well suited to this type of film. I’m also quite partial to heist films, and this very easily fits that bill. The only downsides to Chu’s direction are in the fight scenes, which are of the jump-cut, quick edit variety. Fortunately there’s not too many of them.
Once again, having never seen the original film, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Now You See Me 2 is a silly, hokey film but man is it fun! It’s definitely not to be taken seriously and it’s not high art, but it works very well as slick, summer escapism. The script, which is largely irrelevant in an okay way, aspires to talk about privacy in the digital age, and it’s silly but fine. It definitely works in a way that I didn’t expect it too. It helps that the actors are all game for the material, particularly Harrelson (in a surprise dual role!), Ruffalo, and Freeman, who really shines as a secondary antagonist. I kind of want to go back and watch the first movie now to compare the two. This has been a pretty shitty summer for movies, but I definitely recommend Now You See Me 2. It’s the best kind of silly, summer escapism.