Now You See Me 2 waves its magic wand to produce a hatful of CG-goosed tricks.

by Michael Aushenker
Now You See Me 2
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan
Rated PG-13 for violence and some language
2 hrs., 9 min.

While not a classic, Louis Leterrier’s slick, high-octane Now You See Me had two things going for it: a solid cast and a great concept, bank-heisting magicians. It worked, conjuring up a cool $351.7 million globally in 2013. Jon M. Chu’s sequel retains the fast-moving, glib elasticity of the original while adding the candy-coated colors Chu exhausted in last year’s Jem and the Holograms.

This time, the super-magicians known as the Four Horsemen globe-trot from New York to Macau (the Las Vegas of China!) to London for a grand New Year’s Eve finale (which makes for odd June viewing). Fancying itself an A-minus-list (if not quite A-list) Ocean’s 11 franchise with Fast and Furious spice, Now You See Me 2 reunites the core cast from Leterrier’s original: Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco and Morgan Freeman. (Also returning: screenwriter Ed Solomon, who previously gave us the Bill & Ted and Men in Black movies.) The sequel loses Isla Fisher and gains Lizzy Caplan. Michael Caine and Daniel Radcliffe (in his latest campaign to distance himself from Harry Potter) co-star as evil techies.

Caplan notwithstanding (her character and performance are the film’s most annoying elements), the stellar cast proves the single reason to see NYSM2. Like the movie’s magicians, these actors are complete professionals, and there’s a certain satisfaction to seeing all this talent interact. Coming off Avengers: Age of Ultron and 2015’s Best Picture Spotlight, Ruffalo can walk the line between silly fluff and weighty stuff. Even in something this slack, he is a marvel to behold. While raising eyebrows in dramatic roles, Harrelson (Rampart, True Detective) and Eisenberg (The Social Network, The End of the Tour) are no strangers to comedy: Harrelson, who played in a Farrelly Brothers film, started out on the long-running sitcom Cheers while Eisenberg enlivened the underrated 30 Minutes or Less and (alongside Harrelson) the clever Zombieland. Here, Harrelson and Eisenberg do their best with this material, but Harrelson’s thankless secondary role as his character’s evil twin (don’t ask) pushes it.

NYSM2 also reunites Freeman and Caine, alumni of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Caine goes through the motions here as a sinister Brit and let’s face it: Freeman can play the wise, all-knowing, confidence man while sleepwalking (as he does here).
If you enjoyed the original, you’ll dig NYSM2, which is essentially more of the same. The biggest problem with this franchise is that it expects way too much suspension of disbelief, as none of the proceedings are grounded in anything resembling reality. The “stunts” portrayed in this sequel would require millions of dollars and months of preparation and coordination, but the magicians improvise these elaborate tricks while on the run from the F.B.I. and baddies. Never mind the ludicrous climax — There’s a scene where they have to smuggle a playing card out of an airtight security area teeming with guards that would require more choreography than the entire run of Cats, yet we’re expected to believe that the Horsemen can pull this off on the fly with so many moving parts in the room. The gimmick of either hypnotizing or putting someone to sleep becomes so overused, you’re surprised when it doesn’t happen.

Chu’s sequel faces a greater hurdle than the movie’s villains, as James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 crushed NYSM2 on its opening weekend. Unlike Conjuring 2, NYSM2 is the latest part 2 to suffer from “sequelitis”: underwhelming box-office performance among follow-ups. The list is long: Zoolander 2, Ride Along 2, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Alice Through the Looking Glass and the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all foundered this year.
So savor NYSM2 if you like this franchise. While not nearly as significant as that of the aforementioned sequels, the movie’s drop-off from the original’s take — plus its hefty $90 million price tag — may make any designs for a third installment disappear into thin air.