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Now You See Me 2 ••

Now_You_See_Me_2_posterStarring: Jesse Eisenberg,  Mark Ruffalo,  Woody Harrelson
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenplay: Ed Solomon
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: June 10, 2016


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, just like magic, another movie sequel appears out of nowhere.

Now You See Me 2 should have been called Now You Don’t because that’s what I wished I had done.

The three horsemen magicians have been laying low for a year, awaiting instructions from a secret organization called The Eye. Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), and Jack (Dave Franco) are joined by a fourth horse-“man” named Lula (Lizzy Caplan). Their FBI handler, Dylan (Mark Ruffalo), assigns the horsemen the task of stealing a device that can remove data from any computer system. Their heist, however, goes terribly wrong.

It turns out they’ve been hijacked to Macau, China by Merritt’s evil twin Chase. He works for an evil technologist Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe). Now their main mission is to steal the device for Mabry or suffer the consequences. They rush to an old magic shop in downtown Macau to get the supplies they’ll need for the heist.

Greg, the first Now You See Me was only mildly entertaining at best, and so I had rather low expectations for this sequel. Usually low expectations improve a movie’s chances of impressing me. But alas, not so with this sequel. For me it had the same problems as the first installment. The magic wasn’t real, just all CGI effects, which meant that all that impressive card-throwing (which we saw A LOT of) was faked and hardly jaw-dropping. Then there is the far-fetched plot that depends on multiple cases of “instantaneous hypnosis”. Apparently, all you have to do is surprise someone and they fall under your spell. Ugh.

Yeah, it was pretty weak. The subplot with Merritt meeting his identical twin was just weird. It wasn’t funny, entertaining, or clever. Chase, the twin, showed up without notice wherever the horsemen seemed to be. There was no logic, rhyme, or reason to the character in the movie. It’s almost as if someone said “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if Woody played his own twin? We haven’t seen that in a while,” and then proceeded to inject him wherever the plot seemed to be lagging.

There is at least a hero’s journey. The horsemen are sent down a tube that takes them magically from North America to Asia, and therein begins their adventure in the unfamiliar world. In this world they encounter the usual elements of the hero’s quest, including a mysterious and exotic elderly woman who serves as a mentor figure. Comically, the old lady turns out not to be as exotic as they are led to believe; still, she’s an archetype of wisdom that heroes rely on during their journey.

This is an odd-shaped ensemble cast. The four horsemen are a team and they are commanded by an unseen mastermind “The Eye.” Then there is a fifth guy (Ruffalo) who acts as their mole in the FBI. And then there’s Morgan Freeman acting as … some guy in jail. Freeman appears to be an oppositional character, but ultimately it is revealed that he is “The Eye” and has been molding Ruffalo to take on the role. This is a common trope – the student becoming the master. So, ultimately, Freeman is a mentor. It’s a convoluted, hackneyed and obvious plot point. I wasn’t impressed.

Now You See Me 2 is a sequel that never should have been made, following up on a predecessor that was wracked with mediocrity. This film had the same problems as before — magic tricks that obviously benefitted from CGI enhancements, and a plot that is ridiculously far-fetched. All the star power in this film could not overcome its underwhelmingness. Like its predecessor, I give this move 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero ensemble was fun to watch at times, and the female newcomer to the group, Lula, was a welcome addition. It isn’t exactly a John Hughes-like cross-section of archetypes, but the group does feature a quirky nerd in Eisenberg, a smart-ass in Harrelson, a pretty boy in Franco, and now the Molly Ringwald-esque character in Lula. There is a hero’s journey here and some classic elements straight from Joseph Campbell. So I can justify awarding 3 Heroes out of 5.

The mentors are a muddy mix of men mishandling the magicians. We do appreciate Morgan Freeman’s cleverness, but we are also aghast that he would allow himself to be imprisoned for a couple of years just to fool someone. Rule number 1 of movie-making: Don’t ever do something that is reminiscent of Dumb and Dumber Too.  I’ll award these meager mentors 2 Mentors out of 5.

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It’s hard to be underwhelmed when one’s expectations are already low. Still, while NYSM2 lacked in every other way, at least is accomplished that one thing – completely under-delivering. I won’t recap all that is wrong with this film and give it just 2 out of 5 Reels.

I thought Ruffolo’s character did a nice bit of transformation in this story. If we look at the pain he felt in losing his father, we see it is mended by him taking his own place in the hierarchy of magicians. But the entire movie is so outrageous in its premise that it’s hard to see this as a proper hero’s journey. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes.

I liked the Lula character and wished there were more of her in it. She was the newcomer to the group and could have done with some mentoring. Her immediate acceptance by the team, and subsequent integration into the group’s dynamic left little room for mentorship. On the flip side, I was happy that she wasn’t played up as the “dumb girl who needs to be pulled along.” We’ve touched on the Morgan Freeman mentoring of Ruffalo – but it’s an unlikely scenario. I can award only 1 Mentor out of 5.

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