Now You See Me 2 (2016) (Review)

Now You See Me 2 or Now You See Me: The Second Act (which are both largely underwhelming and uninspired titles when they were sitting on comedy gold with 'Now You Don't) is the sequel to 2013s Now You See Me, a sleeper hit with slowly but surely became Lionsgate's biggest offering outside The Hunger Games franchise (as well as the final Twilight film). The sequel was a given considering the success of the original and reunites most of the original cast - Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman - while switching out Isla Fisher for Lizzy Caplan and adding Daniel Radcliffe for some extra magic. It finally dropped this week in the UK after moderate success and mixed to negative reviews, but did the trick work twice?

With the three remaining members of the Four Horsemen - Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Franco) - in hiding and awaiting instructions from 'The Eye'. Joined by Lula May (Caplan) - replacing  they are assigned a mission by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo), the fifth member: exposing corrupt businessman Owen Case who possess software to steal data of its mobile users. With the heist interrupted by mysterious individuals and hijacked by FBI agents, the Four Horsemen attempt to flee but find themselves at the mercy of Chase McKinney (also played by Harrelson) and Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), who offers them an ultimatum. Meanwhile, Rhodes is approached by Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), who offers to help expose the masterminds behind the plan.

What we have is a pretty game cast with a strong dynamic; Harrelson once again brings a dry sense of humour and wit to his character(s), and whilst his multi-role playing is no Orphan Black, it's strong enough to give a 'what the hell' moment when the second version of him turns up, unannounced and with little signal. Franco is charming and likeable as Wilder and carries an infectious energy throughout the film (A.K.A. I'm glad he didn't stay dead in the first film). Caplan is a joyous addition to the cast and brings more humour that expected, never taking herself to seriously while remaining striking and sophisticated with a real breeze. Radcliffe is another strong addition as the film's evil while, thankfully, it would seem that Freeman and Caine didn't simply returning for the paycheque. Eisenberg is a little bit of a killjoy but I will put that down to the character's goals in the first act than the actor himself. Whilst these elements and performances are strong individual, they somehow work even stronger as an ensemble, where the individual's successes and traits work even better when part of the whole, creating a fun dynamic to play with throughout the film (evident in the extensive 'card switch' scene).

Jon M. Chu takes the directorial reins and perhaps its his is ethnic background that inspires a large chunk of the film taking place in China. This not only helps set the film apart from other theatrical offerings but introduces us to a different and less traditional place seen on screen (although it is becoming more frequent in itself). Having it situated in China almost entirely for the middle act really helps structure the film, as we move from America and to Britain for the first and final acts, respectively. It is intrugingly shot throughout, from the aforementioned card switch scene to the final reveal scene (which in itself is truly satisfying as we track the hows and the whys of the tricks), with camera trickery really encouraging your immersion in the film - it is definitely a film where you must suspend your disbelief to truly enjoy - all of which is encouraged under Chu's direction.

The film tries so hard to be clever that is often finds itself written into corners that it then has to quickly undo, or try to shock you with another twist so you are distracted long enough to forget. I am undecided whether it was just me or not (so be sure to leave your opinion in the comment section below), the film appeared to be working towards one conclusion that never materialises, which needs an even bigger, unnecessary and ill-conceived twist to write themselves out of it. This leads to the overall sense that everything and the kitchen sink has been thrown at this film, with too many ideas floating around for it to feel seamless. Still, I would prefer that than something that felt undercooked and underdeveloped and the film rarely wavers in entertainment value and excitement. Even with these flaws, the illusions and trickery can distract long enough for them to feel (at least somewhat) ironed out; it just depends on your acceptance of this element as to whether you enjoy the film or not.

With a mix of twists and turns, you more than often miss the obvious in these films, which is often its biggest advantage; you never really know what to expect because the obvious is usually so much more than that. And on top of that, its not knowing that one character will escape a reinforced steel safe submerged in water, but its wanting to know 'how' that keeps you so engaged in the film. Yes, the phrase 'style over substance' occasionally comes to mind, but this is an example of a film where that is not too much of a problem if you can accept it early on. You cannot waste your time running round in circles, thinking about the ins and outs of this film, as you will end up feeling redundant to the film, I just urge you to go into this film expecting nothing but fun and games - the trick here is all in your expectations.

Summary: Now You See Me 2 improves greatly on the original, embracing its implausibility and running with it, conjuring an enjoyable, fun and silly outing bolstered by the impressive casting and sheer number of twists and turns.

Highlight: The impressive cast dynamics - Franco and Caplan really impressed me, especially - and the twists and turns that lead guessing and predicting what will come next into a nightmare..