There’s a problem at the heart of the Now You See Me movies that’s at the heart of a lot of modern blockbusters, even if it’s rarely so easy to pinpoint. Both 2013’s Now You See Me and this new sequel follow The Horsemen, the world’s greatest magicians — they’re also wanted criminals and Robin Hood-like political terrorists, but we’ll get to that that — as they travel the world performing tremendous feats of magic. Trouble is, neither movie seems to understand what makes magic work.
For magicians to pull off tricks — sorry, illusions — it has to feel as if they’re bending the laws of the universe. But in the CGI-heavy world of these movies, anything can happen. One character stops the rain and then vanishes into a puddle of water. Another performs a guillotine trick in which she keeps talking up to the moment the blade takes off her head. How? It seems impossible, and not in the “How’d they do that?” sense but in the “I think I just got cheated” sense.
When handled carelessly or relied on too much, CGI has made movies feel intangible, creating worlds where anything can happen and yet nothing feels incredible. Any real entertainment has to be found elsewhere in the film.
Like its predecessor, Now You See Me 2 at least has an appealing — and packed — cast. Mark Ruffalo returns as Dylan, an FBI agent revealed at the end of the first film to be one of the masterminds who first brought the Horsemen together. As the film opens, everyone’s laying low as they await the next mission. Still sporting a hoodie no matter what the weather, Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) has grown impatient while Jack (Woody Harrelson) and Merritt (Dave Franco) try to school each other in their areas of expertise (hypnotism and card throwing, respectively). Meanwhile, newcomer Lula (Lizzy Caplan) sneaks her way into the slot vacated by Henley, played in an absent Isla Fisher.