Darke Reviews | Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Ok, so I asked permission from those running the screening tonight and I was given a greenlight to write this. Lionsgate Marketing held a screening for this film tonight and I decided to forgo much needed sleep and attend this. Now if you haven’t seen the first film, you are missing out. Much as I said in the last review, how does one write a spoiler free review of a movie about Magic and Misdirection? Illusion and Mystery? Quite simple really – I look for the blind spot and use it to my advantage. Now clearly I am a fan of the first film, it’s on my list of 20+ views. The real question you ask yourself now

Should I see it? What will she tell me?

The movie is based on the characters created by Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, who do not return for this picture. The third horseman Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Bill & Ted) returns, which means technically the first film violates my rule of three, this does not. Joining Ed is writer and producer, Peter “Pete” Chiarelli (The Proposal, Eagle Eye).  These two had a tough challenge in setting up a mystery that continues the narrative arc of not just the original film, but the characters themselves. They had to do it within a world that made you, just for a moment, believe in magic again. I would like to say they succeeded mostly. So I shall. They succeeded – mostly. They avoided a few painful narrative pitfalls and tropes, while happily engaging others in a way that reminded me of the first film at times. They also had an uneviable task of writing out one actress (Isla Fisher) and in another (Lizzy Caplan) to join the Horsemen. Unlike other replacements, this was simply due to Fisher being pregnant and otherwise unable to perform the role of Henley. There are a few missteps in characters as the movie migrates into act 3 that I land on their lap, but it’s really solid otherwise. It made me, and the entire theatre, laugh on the right beats and “oooh” at the others.

Jon M. Chu was given the task this time to direct, replacing Louis Leterrier. Chu is best known for his work in the Step Up series (2 and 3), the much (deservedly) maligned Jem and the Holograms, and the surprisingly enjoyable GI Joe Retaliation (this is the second one where ice doesn’t sink). Knowing this explains a few of the beats of the film and one of the glaring flaws to me, which is the camera work. I don’t know if it was him or the director of photography, but there were a few shots in the movie that left me a little disoriented from the sweeping camera moves and distorted angles which didn’t really add. His background does explain why the rain sequence shown in the trailer reminds me of Step Up 2’s finale when seen in full. Not a complaint as the dance is epic, just an observation. The change in director does change the tone of the beats and pacing somewhat, but it doesn’t harm the film in an relative way. I have a sense, however, that the budget of 75 million from the first was not given here, something is just off in the film that makes it feel a touch cheaper and that is not the fault of Chu. It’s quite possible I am wrong and they used every bloody penny and then some to achieve what they did across the multiple filming locations.

Let’s talk acting shall we?

Jesse Eisenberg (Daniel Atlas), Woody Harrelson (Merritt McKinney), Mark Ruffalo (Dylan Rhodes), Dave Franco (Jack Wilder), Michael Caine (Arthur Tressler), Morgan Freeman (Thaddeus Bradley), all return. All do well in their parts and this is not really a surprise to anyone who watched the first. Mélanie Laurent was missed in this one, without the explanation that was given Fisher’s character. New members to the cast are Daniel Radcliffe, whom I enjoyed in his role and wanted more of him through the film because the boy can be damn charming. Jay Chou (Green Hornet, True Legend) is painfully underused in the film. It was good to see Sanaa Lathan (Alien vs Predator, Blade) again , though much like Chou her role was limited. It’s sad to see them both given so little, but it does retain the focus where it needs to be on the core characters of the film as they come back for a last trick for their lives.

From a technical perspective I’ve targeted the camera work and just something about the film itself that feels lesser somehow. That aside, the tricks are worth it. David Copperfield, yes *the* David Copperfield served as a producer on this film and it shows. I heard a gentleman after the film say there were four professional magicians in the audience and they said most of the tricks they saw could be done. That says something as we are constantly assaulted by things that are not done in camera, yet many of these tricks were and that effort shows. True CG was used to fill in the blanks and to pull off some of the tricks, but that doesn’t change the quality of it from an entertainment perspective.


As I said on exiting the film, this is a solid sequel. It isn’t better than the first, but it holds up really well. I liked what I saw. I was entertained and as I have said many times before and will continue to do so. Movies serve a purpose for us. Some are to educate. Some are to make us think. Others are there for the entertainment and joy they bring. This is the last of the choices presented and it does what it needs to do and I had a good time. I do plan to pay money to see it again to put my 10 bucks to it’s box office haul.

I would have preferred the original title though: Now You See Me – The Second Act.

Should you see it?

If you like the first? Absolutely. If you didn’t watch the first, see it then watch. It is a good matinee flick and alternative fair to TMNT or Warcraft this weekend.

Will Jess buy it? 

Yep! BluRay even.

What’s next for reviews?

A much overdue The Highrise, TMNT (tomorrow night after I see it), Warcraft (Thursday night).

Darke Reviews | Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

So I did the math on the way home. Took the day off and spent the better part of it at the theatre. Granted I slept til 1:30 then headed over, but yeesh. Was it worth it though? Double Feature of Avengers and then Age of Ultron, discounts on food and drink. Conversation with another movie geek on the comics, animated movies, and general geektitude. Yep all of it was worth it. It was weird hearing people in the audience who hadn’t seen Avengers first and odd to note things that raised questions in the first Avengers in light of Winter Soldier. But…did Age of Ultron live up to the hype?

Let’s be honest folks – you are going to see it anyway regardless of this review. This easily falls into the #seeitanyway category. Let me see if I can keep to my usual spoiler free territory.

Written and directed by geek god Joss Whedon, the film picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the events of all the previous films. It starts mid-stride with the Avengers continuing to try to find Loki’s staff in the wake of the events of Avengers. It’s clear they’ve worked together awhile on various missions enough so that they have clear roles and methods in how they work with each others powers, or lack there of. A new threat of their own making rises in the form of Ultron. An AI with a goal and the Avengers must overcome their internal issues and external ones to win the day, will they?

Lets talk the cast a moment. Our favorites return in the roles that we love them for. Chris Evans is once again on point as Captain America, he still has his ghosts, but as Dr. Irskin asked of him – be a good man. RDJ of course returns as Iron Man with no real acknowledgement of the events of Iron Man 3 one way or the other. I think we are better for that. He was made to play Tony Stark, but it is clear that he is both comfortable and tired of the role. Mark Ruffalo is given significantly more time as Bruce Banner and is allowed to show more than he did in the previous film. I still believe he is a secretly genius casting and he does well with what he is given. Chris Hemsworth takes Thor out for his 4th outing and doesn’t do much new or at all I suppose. ScarJo gets her own 4th showing as Black Widow, the assassin and spy, and is actually given more depth this time with the barest glimpse into her background.  Jeremy Renners complaints were clearly heard after the last movie and has a lot more time as Hawkeye with some significant divergence from his comic roots. They don’t hurt, but they are surprising. Samuel L Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders all become proof positive that the writer and producers heard the complaints about Iron Man 3 and went ‘oh yeah, all of these guys exists and you know should be here…even briefly’. Sadly we get no Paltrow or Portman as Pepper and Jane; which we do hear some snark about in film – it’s nice. Of course we also have the introduction of Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass, Godzilla) as Pietro Maximoff, who can’t be called Quicksilver due to rights issues, and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff, more commonly known as the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Old Boy). Ultron is gifted with the voice of our favorite man in a fedora from Blacklist, James Spader. I swear this man could read a phone book and make it sound delicious.

Whew….was that too busy?

That there is the movies problem. It’s taken me twenty minutes to think about this and a good twenty minutes talking with my partner in crime this evening. The problem here is the film is too busy. Too big. We aren’t given a chance to breathe, save one scene. The scene we are ostensibly supposed to be able to revel in the quiet, is just too tense to enjoy the moment. It’s off putting rather than relaxing. The tension was ramped up and kept at a certain level that left you bordering on uncomfortable. It all was too much. Too many locations, too many fights, too many cuts. Too busy.

Things that need explanation are left painfully vague or explained too quick to sink in. There is expectation you have seen everything to this point and if you haven’t you may scratch your head at a few scenes. It’s clear there are significant cuts and edits to the film as well as a few scenes from the trailer are noticeably missing. I think Joss stumbled on this one, it’s not a failure, but it is a clear stumble. He wrote himself into corners he didn’t know how to write himself out of elegantly or cleanly. When he did give himself a needed out, the outs came off awkward. While I am rarely one to encourage films to be split into two, I think there was enough material here that this could have or should have been. It wasn’t in the plan so it couldn’t be and the narrative pays for it. I feel, I believe the studio interfered more this time as well. Joss is far from perfect, but there’s just something wrong about the entire picture on a level I can’t quite put my finger on. It is almost as if they were trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle they had with the first Avengers and didn’t quite stick the landing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve overly expounded on the problems here, but the movie is still solid. You will continue to love and hate the characters as appropriate. The fight sequences are solid in their own right. The movie properly zooms into comic book physics without batting an eye and we are ok with all of this. The movie still has humor in the right places and darkness in the others. The famous Hammer and party sequence are everything I hoped they would be. Spaders voice work and mo cap of Ultron is in a word incredible. The man’s presence can be felt even if he himself is not on screen.


The movie lands solidly in the better than average to as low as the “it’s ok” realm. I might (probably) watch it again to see if my opinions on it shift the needle in either direction. This is still likely to be one of the biggest movies of the year, though Furious Seven has set a benchmark that will make it hard for other films to hit. This one, probably will though – and deserves to. The movie **is** good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t quite as good as the last Avengers and doesn’t quite have the same magic.

If you were going to see it – see it! You’d ignore the review or not want to read it anyway (despite me being spoiler free when possible)

If you were on the fence – eh…see it Matinee.

If you were curious – I’d ask what rock you’ve been living under and why you haven’t seen the others. You definitely don’t want to start on this however, and you’d likely feel lost as there’s enough history required for this one to not make this a first timers film.


Coming Soon

Review season has begun, I get the next week off after that. Mad Max and Pitch Perfect in the same weekend – thankfully not vying for the same audiences. Tomorrowland follows with San Andreas the week after (though that review will be late due to Phoenix Comicon). The rest of summer after that looks to be hit and miss. Here’s hoping folks.

Sunday, you might get a special throwback review…Big Trouble In Little China has a screening at one of my local theatres.

Darke Reviews | Now You See Me (2013)

As I prefer to give spoiler free reviews as much as possible, this film presents an interesting challenge. How do you review a movie about magicians and their tricks without giving the slightest hint about what is inside? I don’t have the luxury of misdirection and slight of hand. I would tell you the closer you are the less you see, but this is a text medium and you see everything that I write and can interpret it as you see fit.

Director Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Clash Of Titans) brings us the tale of four street magicians trying to make it big. We have the talents of Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave “We couldn’t get his older brother” Franco, and Jesse “Not Michael Cera” Eisenberg as the aforementioned magicians. They have come together for a heist of what we can only assume is epic proportions. Hot on their trail is the FBI, Interpol, the 1% and a professional debunker.

Lets talk about the acting a bit, the four magicians all play their parts well. They deliver on their promises and keep you wondering what is real and what is not. In this they succeed. If you are looking for character growth or depth, I hear that Joss Whedons “Much Ado About Nothing” comes out next week. Then there is the FBI Agent, the now famous Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk in the Avengers), who plays his part admirably; which is to say frustrated, annoyed and always a few steps in the wrong direction.

Interpol is played by relative newcomer, Mélanie Laurent, who sadly lacks any form of chemistry with Ruffalo and largely ends up as window dressing. Then we have Morgan “Is my voice epic enough” Freeman playing a magician turned debunker. It’s entirely possible they cast him for his expositional abilities. He too is after our four maverick magicians for his own reasons. Freemans confidence and usual swagger, along with the writing keep his character an interesting part of the game being played in the roughly two hour running time.

The movies largest flaw is the Director of Photography feeling the need to do spinning 360 camera shots incessantly. I am truly boggled at the Director/DP need to use tricks of the camera that people have been complaining about for years now. Shaky Cam and Spin Cam are nauseating and do not actually bring you into the action of the film. If he was deliberately trying to be disorienting, then he succeeded, disgustingly so.

SO where does this review leave us for the TL;DRs out there?

If you want to know the trick, want to see it play out? The grand scheme?

See it, matinee would be fine.

If you weren’t the least bit curious, you can give this a pass til Redbox or Netflix.

I was entertained for my two hours, I had a good discussion on the film and its characters and their motivations. I believe that is what a movie should deliver at the end of the trick and it does. It doesn’t take a mentalist to see through it; so come in close and stay for the trick.