It comes as no surprise to discover that Now You See Me 2 is every bit as daft as the first film to feature a group of mercurial magicians known as The Four Horsemen who perform elaborate large-scale stunts in the name of exposing crooks and charlatans. As is so often the case with sequels, everything is bigger (but rarely better) than the film that it follows and such is the case in this instance with the action amped up and the story so convoluted that any remotely interesting elements are overwhelmed by the over-the-top excesses of the narrative. Directed by sequel specialist Jon Chu (Step Up 2, G.I. Joe Retaliation), Now You See Me 2 sees Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco reprise their roles from the first film, with Lizzy Caplan as the token female and Daniel Radcliffe as the requisite bad guy against whom the Horsemen are pitted.
Following an opening sequence from 30 years earlier in which FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) sees his father killed when a magic trick goes wrong, as voice-over (from Freeman of course) catches us up with the events of the first film before we arrive at present day with the Horsemen shirking the spotlight. However, unbeknownst to the others, self-appointed head honcho Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) has been communicating with a mysterious entity known only as The Eye. Subsequently, the group – which also comprises mentalist Merrett McKinney (Harrelson), sleight-of-hand man Jack Wilder (Franco) and illusionist Lula (Caplan) – reconvene to sabotage the launch of a new mobile phone technology, only to have their performance hijacked by Walter Mabry (Radcliffe) a supercilious megalomaniac living off the grid in Macau who blackmails them into staging an elaborate robbery, the execution of which is ridiculous in the extreme but is only one of many truly preposterous moments, not the least of which is the way in which the group arrive in Macau. These are supposed to be some of the finest magicians in the world, yet the various illusions and trickery are so obviously the work of special effects and editing that these sequences are, ultimately, quite underwhelming.
With McKinney’s twin brother (also played by Harrelson) a key player in the plot against them, the Horseman draw upon all of their collective cleverness in a bid to outwit both Walter and the authorities. Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) lurks in the background after being boosted from jail by Rhodes, whose allegiance to the Horseman makes him a target for his FBI colleagues. Comparisons can be drawn between the Four Horseman and superhero collectives such as The Avengers or the X-Men given that our group possess a Robin Hood-style philosophy and, amid the posturing and one-upmanship, use their enhanced talents to fight injustice and eliminate threats to the community. However, the performers are let down by cheesy dialogue and a convoluted story that, given the fact our heroes do not actually possess any superhuman attributes, leaps from one impossibility to another. None of the characters are particularly endearing, although Caplan (who replaced Isla Fisher) does bring some smart-ass energy into the mix. Neither Freeman nor Caine, who returns as Arthur Tressler, the insurance magnate fleeced by the Horseman in the first installment, have much to do as both their characters are somewhat superfluous to the story and their inclusion seems more to do with the credibility the two Academy Award-winning actors bring to the piece.
Undeniably energetic but devoid of any subtlety whatsoever, Now You See Me 2 is a bombastic and befuddled effort; even more absurdly implausible than the first film in what now seems to be a bona fide franchise given that a third outing is currently in pre-production. Even a quality cast can’t elevate this to anything more than a mediocre, instantly forgettable follow-up to a movie that didn’t set a particularly high benchmark in the first place.