You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet
Jon M Chu
For some reason Louis Leterrier’s 2013 magic heist film, Now You See Me, really irked me. It went on to make a fair profit but I resented seemingly everything about it. The action was average, the acting was stunted, the visual effects were pony and most importantly the script was dire; the whole thing played itself off as clever when it was little more than convoluted, flashy and hollow. The reins for the sequel have fallen to Jon M. Chu (director of a couple of Step Up features and a couple of Justin Bieber ‘films’) and he’s managed to produce something of equally forgettable standing.
Having spent a year in hiding, the members of the four horsemen, Atlas [Eisenberg], Jack [Franco] and Merritt [Harrelson] (minus Henley) are getting twitchy. Like all magicians, desperate for the limelight, they are sick of waiting in the shadows under the orders of magician/FBI agent Dylan Rhodes/Shrike [Ruffalo] acting on orders from the secret magicians order, The Eye. Dylan introduces the group to a new fourth member, Lula [Caplan] and together they plan on taking down another target, only to fall prey to an elaborate ruse, fleeing a rooftop in America and ending up in a restaurant in Macau. Learning they have been summoned by presumed deceased tech mogul Walter Mabry [Radcliffe], the horsemen are recruited to steal a chip which can hack into any computer anywhere, in exchange for their freedom. But who is working for whom and whose side is anyone really on?
I have such a bugbear with incredibly stupid films passing themselves off as smart. On top of that, I hate how magic is presented in film. To explain, I’m not talking about (and I hesitate to use these words) “real magic,” my gripe is with how cinema depicts sleight of hand illusion. Where film gets it wrong is that the magic trick itself is all that impresses people, the magician is not cool. I don’t care how famous or renowned you are, whether a gritty street magician or a kid with a ‘my first’ magic set, you are lame. Your tricks are probably entertaining but no one wants to be you, they just want to know how they were fooled. Admittedly, I would not count acts of psychological showmanship and suggestion in with that as it’s a fascinating look into the way the herd mind operates. And Now You See Me 2 lives for the idea that these magicians are adored, respected and loved world over.
Like any card trick, Now You See Me 2 follows the formula of its predecessor pretty much to the letter, in essence delivering the exact same trick and convincing you it’s somehow different. We have the same setup, the same mistrust, the same heist elements and the same twists that are about as hidden as sweat stains on a white suit. On the positive side, the score is still fittingly over-the-top and thunders at the audience as if to harmoniously shout either “SUSPENSE!” or “TA-DA!” The real difference this time round is that Mark Ruffalo’s identity is no longer a secret, so at least his bumbling feels less painful, now that we’re in on the act. Furthermore the additions of Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Radcliffe are extremely welcome. Caplan’s brand of sassy humour often outshines her colleague’s efforts and rather than being just filling an Isla Fisher-shaped hole, she actually bleeds into the dynamic (what little there is) rather well. Then there’s Radcliffe and his unique brand of grinning creepiness, giving him an unusual and unpredictable edge.
And yet it all falls apart so quickly. Just as soon as I can think of something positive to say, a great screeching monkey on my back reminds me how terrible these inclusions actually are thanks to that aforementioned piss-poor script. Caplan plays Lula with a sexual awareness and confidence that feels somewhat progressive but comes off as trite. During the planning stage of the.. well the main heist I guess.. the horsemen have to replace a gangster’s entourage who always happen to have a rotating “bimbo of the week.” Immediately, Caplan protests saying, “I wonder who gets to be the bimbo” while the rest of the cast shrug as if to say, “them’s the breaks.” Only to reveal TWIST! that the bimbo is actually a man! A man! Can you imagine!? How is Caplan going to recover now!? She thinks she’s playing an airhead but she’s actually a crazy smart scientist and Eisenberg is the bimbo, whaaat!? Well done Now You See Me 2, way to really challenge those gender-normative world views. And as much as I like Radcliffe and his performance here, it does feel a little bit like he’s in the wrong film. Somewhere between a young Bond villain and a malicious bastard (in the traditional sense of the word) from Game Of Thrones, Radcliffe’s character straight-up murders people. He happily and cheerfully has people beaten up, drowned in a locked box and thrown out of a jet at high altitude. Corrupt unscrupulous businessman or not, that’s pretty shocking stuff. Yet the film plays it off like the actions of a Scooby Doo villain, “Curses! Foiled again!”
Bafflingly, these films are still making a great deal of money and as such, I can’t see them ending any time soon. Thus, regrettably, this series will remain a hideous waste of talent for some time.
4th July 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
**Massive spoiler at the end of this paragraph**
The heist to acquire the McGuffin is extremely tiresome. Making their way through the metal detector, the group mutter “the key is metal how are we going to get it out” followed by “I have no idea.” All this planning and it turns out they don’t in fact have a plan. But before they can even deal with that conundrum we are treated to a seemingly endless card handoff sequence that thinks it’s Mission: Impossible. Franco is searched down and as he is, he masterfully hides the playing card (holding the ..plastic.. thing.. that hacks all computers *sigh*) from the guard but when he runs out of space, he flicks it around the room to a fellow Horseman. This goes on ten or fifteen times and you start to wonder how thorough this search is. And the most mind-numbing aspect is that the man orchestrating the searches is a member of the Eye! Was he a plant too? Is he a distraction or.. or an insurance aspect? It’s not clever! It’s fucking lazy writing that makes no sense! It’d be like ending Star Wars by revealing that the Tuskan Raider that tried to kill Luke Skywalker was a rebel soldier all along. How does that make sense or serve the story?
One of the key pillars in the villainous cadre is Woody Harrelson playing his character’s twin brother, Chase McKinney. I don’t know whose idea it was to make Chase such a ridiculous cartoonish henchman but it’s maddeningly absurd. Everything about this character is half-arsed and uncomfortably odd, like an anime character brought to life; effeminate but vicious, surprisingly capable yet supposedly incompetent.
“You can’t control the grid from within the grid”
In A Few Words:
“Once again I’m forced to believe the only way to take down corrupt businessmen is with the use of stage magic and once again I hate the concept”