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).