2016 hasn’t been a good year for sequels. Put simply, they’ve been dropping like flies: Over the last six and a half months, Alice Through the Looking Glass, London Has Fallen, Zoolander No. 2, Ride Along 3, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, X-Men: Apocalypse, Barbershop: The Next Cut, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War have all underperformed compared to their predecessors. Hollywood’s obsession with #brands has started to bite it in the ass; just because something has name recognition doesn’t mean people will go see it. And so, it follows: Every successful movie shouldn’t get a sequel.
Next up on the chopping block is Now You See Me 2, sequel to the frothy magician-themed action comedy that served as a surprise hit for Lionsgate back in 2013, earning $351 million worldwide against a modest-for-Hollywoood $75 million budget. A sequel was inevitable, if not necessary. Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson return as Robin Hood-esque magicians the Horsemen, with the first movie’s Isla Fisher replaced by Lizzy Caplan (“I’m the new Horseman. I’m the girl Horseman. Whoo!”) Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman return, with newcomers Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou and Daniel Radcliffe—the latter playing a reclusive billionaire who conscripts the Horseman to steal a technological MacGuffin—joining the mix.
Reviews for this one have been pretty dismal, with only 36% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, bu t… look, I didn’t hate it. Maybe that’s because the last two new releases I saw were Warcraft and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, next to which The Room looks like Citizen Kane. This summer has just not been good. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t a fan of the first one, or rather, I don’t think I was — I know that I saw it, but I have absolutely zero impression of it other than “Eh. S’alright.”
Now You See Me 2 is a deeply silly, stupid film, but it’s a film about Robin Hood magicians, so I don’t know what else you expect, really. It simultaneously takes itself too seriously, with Morgan Freeman intoningabout ~*magic~*~ and ~*~perception~*~, and is outright corny. See: A scene early on, where Jesse Eisenberg’s character asks “I asked to see the face behind all of this,” and then looks down a well to find himself staring into a shattered mirror. Do you get it? Do you?
Now You See Me 2 has plot holes so big you could drive a semitruck filled with Criss Angel clones through them, and it should have been a good 20 minutes shorter. (Those excised 20 minutes could have been everything with Jesse Eisenberg’s character angsting over how he wants to be in charge of the Horseman. Pro tip: Jesse Eisenberg’s character is the least sympathetic, least engaging person in this entire movie. He’s just a narcissistic blowhard prick. Less of him, more of Franco and Caplan, please.)
The first movie culminated with the reveal that Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo), the FBI agent trying to track down the Horseman, was actually a magician himself who had been helping them the whole time. Its sequel continues the twisty tradition, with a surprise revelation sending the plot off in a new direction every 20 minutes. If the specifics of these twists come as a surprise, their broad strokes are pretty easy to anticipate; we know [CHARACTER X] makes an appearance, [CHARACTER Y] is evil, and the Horseman will outsmart their adversaries. The pleasure is in seeing how, but that’s not a pleasure that can be stretched out for 129 minutes. My kingdom for a time when all blockbusters didn’t have to be two hours long.
That said, if you go along with the flow, it is a fun movie, with some really good magic setpieces. Mark Ruffalo always manages to elevate so-so material; Lizzy Caplan’s enjoyable as the high-energy, motormouth Lula (even if it’s slightly irritating that one of two women in this movie falls into ~*~quirky girl~*~ trope territory); Dave Franco continues to cement his reputation as the better Franco brother; and Woody Harrelson has a damn ball playing both hypnotist Horseman Merritt and Merrit’s evil twin. And Jesse Eisenberg… well, Jesse Eisenberg has the most Jesse Eisenberg line ever: “Was that an act of God? No, no, no. That was an act of me.”
Now You See Me 2 probably won’t break the curse of the sequel; that honor will likely go to Finding Dory next weekend. But, as with Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, that’s not because there’s substantial drop in quality from its predecessor. Now You See Me 2 is… fine. It’s not good, but it’s entertaining; I wouldn’t spend $15 on a movie ticket for it, but it’s a solid choice for background viewing when it hits HBOGo or Netflix one of these days.