Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Review: Now You See Me 2

Now You See Me 2
Cert: 12A / 129 mins / Dir. Jon M. Chu / Trailer

So, magic-troupe, The Four Horsemen, with their entourage and nemeses in tow, return in the sequel to 2013's Now You See Me*1. Well, 75% of the Four Horsemen return, but since Isla Fisher's off having a baby and the follow-up simply couldn't wait, her character is indelicately written out and Lizzy Caplan is even more indelicately drafted in as The Girl One™. And Caplan's good (although she always is), but the handling of the situation feels insulting to both the cast and the audience alike (although Mélanie Laurent's protagonist from the first movie isn't even mentioned, let alone discarded).

Relying heavily on the audience being familiar with NYSM, Ed Solomon's screenplay doesn't spend a lot of time setting up the modus operandi or filling in the blanks between installments (about a year in plot-time). Aiming for a slick, globe-trotting caper but feeling more like someone running for a bus, the film's pacing is all over the place, and the various sub-plots are just as inconsequential as the headline-act. Whereas the previous entry was a series of loosely connected set-pieces holding together a heist-movie, this one feels more like an over-produced first draft of an episode of Hustle, with the central characters jumping through hoops to steal a Magic Computer Chip Macguffin™ that even the script doesn't bother explaining adequately.

Messrs Ruffalo, Eisenberg and Franco reprise their roles to varying degrees of success, but Woody Harrelson's turn as Merritt as well as his own twin brother means he's arguably putting in the most work out of all the players, and apparently having the most fun as a result. Michael Caine phones in another performance, but at least Morgan Freeman's not on cinematic autopilot for this outing, although he's still being absolutely no more than Morgan Freeman™ (although when was the last time he wasn't?). Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe struggles to find meaningful work after graduating Hogwarts. Keep looking, Dan.

And I know that this is a bugbear of mine second only to accents, but what the hell is with the geography in this movie? Once the Four Horsemen hit Ol' London Town and split up to give separate diversionary street-magic shows, Merritt's brother (Harrelson) takes Merritt (Harrelson) to one side and crows, "So where are you guys moving towards? By the Thames? Tower Bridge? Greenwich? Greenwich! I know where you're going..!". Except that when he's saying all this, they're already standing in Greenwich. Yeah you're right, I'm sure no-one else will have noticed...

Luckily, the film is just enough fun to paper over the cracks caused by the amount of sense it doesn't make. Just. That said, it's not as likeable as its predecessor and doesn't carry the goodwill it seems to think it can coast on. In the best showbiz tradition, Now You See Me 2 is fairly entertaining but utterly disposable. The second time this year I've been underwhelmed by Four Horsemen.

After the faux-moralistic, climactic showdown, perhaps the most ambitious trick the film attempts is in its final moments where Morgan Freeman's Thaddeus tries to convince the Horsemen (and by extension, the audience) that they've been through something meaningful.

But by that point, we've all seen behind the curtain and realised there was nothing there, after all...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, it's probably actually more American Hustle than Now You See Me.
And that's not necessarily a compliment

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For disposable fun, sure.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Not particularly.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not particularly.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not particularly.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Although it's a very low-key link, Shina Shihoko Nagai and Attila G. Kerekes have a small roles in this movie, as well as the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And before I get started (unless you're reading this footnote after the review), I feel I should say that while I really enjoyed the first Now You See Me at the time, it's left me with a sort of cinematic itch. And not a good one. The problem (if you see it as a problem) is that I'm not really a fan of watching Magicians™. I'm fascinated by what they do and admire if immensely from a technical and performance point-of-view, but I'm one of those irritating realists who believes in Illusions™, rather than Magic™. I'll be just as gob-smacked as the next punter when the JCB (or whatever) apparently disappears, but I don't believe for a second that supernatural forces are at play. And since it's the actual job of the Magician™ to resolutely not explain how they've achieved the illusion, this ultimately leaves me more irritated than awe-struck. The more a performer plays their art down, the more smug they seem to become, somehow.
Anyway, the reason I'm raising this is that while it may be a fantastic experience to watch this stuff in a live environment (or even a recording which was made in one), using it as the basis for a film is completely pointless. Moreover, this would still apply even if the core team were actual illusionists, rather than actors-playing-illusionists. You can already do anything in a film, it's called film-making. If you're the kind of viewer who oohs-and-aahs at Jesse Eisenberg making the rain go up (even though that trick is explained in the film), you're probably going to shit yourself when you watch Age of Ultron. If the line between movie-real and audience-real is sometimes fuzzy, Now You See Me is the cinematic equivalent of Gaussian Blur…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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