There were major problems with the 2013 magic-meets-heist film “Now You See Me” – it started out interesting but fell apart by the end, the characters felt superficial and Isla Fisher, the only woman in the group, was as bland as unbuttered toast.
The sequel, “Now You See Me 2,” is much stronger. It starts out with another magical concept, but instead of the story droning to a lackluster end, the big reveal is both fun and full of original twists. It does not have nearly as many problems as the first movie.
“Now You See Me 2” picks up a year after the first film with magic’s version of the “Ocean’s Eleven” team, known as the Horsemen, in hiding. Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) has gone from his ploy as a bumbling FBI agent that was a big reveal in the original film to running the team.
Their big return is thwarted by super nerd Walter Mabry, a young billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) who blackmails the team into stealing a super secret device. The script by Ed Solomon bounces between the team’s efforts to get out from under the control of the pompous Walter and the back story for Rhodes.
The battle between the magicians and the maniac makes for some interesting mind play. The mystery of whether what is happening is reality or illusion is better hidden and that is a major plus.
There is something real about the history of Rhodes. It was clear from the original film that he had a magic background and the sequel offers far more details. The story fits well with the main plot.
Part of the reason it works is Ruffalo. He plays a character who is smart enough to baffle the FBI but broken enough to struggle with his emotions. These elements go into creating a more developed character than the rest of the team.
Ruffalo is at his best in scenes with Morgan Freeman, who reprises his role as the man who has spent his life revealing the secrets of magic. The pair share a tension and bond that makes their relationship a commanding part of the entire movie.
“Now You See Me 2” also benefits from the addition of Lizzy Caplan as the replacement for Fisher. The “Masters of Sex” star brings a fire and energy to the film that is opposite to the uninspired way Fisher played her role.
Caplan is at ease whether she’s doing geek magic, passing herself off as a technological genius or serving as a beautiful distraction for the team. Her energy, combined with the complexities of Ruffalo’s work, fix the biggest problems in the original work.
The sequel manages to pull off a grand illusion that builds on smaller tricks along the way. Not only is the way the trick is handled a surprise, but the fact an illusion is in the process is presented in a sneaky manner.
“Now You See Me 2” pulls of some movie magic by being a sequel that’s better than the original film. It’s not perfect. But it is a lot of fun, especially because of Ruffalo and Caplan, who bring very different but equally strong elements to the movie.