Now You See Me 2 is the mildly anticipated sequel to Louis Leterrier’s 2013 film about magicians who think they’re in Ocean’s Eleven. This one is directed by Jon M Chu, the man responsible for Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Yes, well. With a suitably eyebrow-raising cast returning, his follow-up promises to learn from the mistakes of the last one and not end with a twist that makes about as much sense as finishing this sentence with the word "spaniel".
That twist was FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), the man chasing showy magician thieves The Four Horsemen, actually being the mysterious prestidigitator helping them all along. If, like me, the sheer ridiculousness of that ending prompted you to start mooing at the screen, you’ll probably regard this sequel with equal contempt.
The Horsemen have been hiding for over a year, still on the run from the law after stealing all of Michael Caine’s money. Now that they’ve waited the appropriate amount of time before making a film with the number 2 in it, Dylan has instructed them to re-emerge and expose a corrupt tech giant. But thanks to someone purportedly cleverer than them (Daniel Radcliffe), they end up being the ones exposed, making them more fugitive-y fugitives.
When attempting to escape the authorities yet again, they find themselves being magically transported to Macau, China, which is made up entirely of dirty laundry bins. This is just the set-up to an equally convoluted plot in which Harry Potter asks them to steal a chip that can access private data from every device on the planet.
The problems lie with the initial idea to make the film. The main plot drifts in and out of focus like you in your nosey neighbour’s camera lens, and the opportunity to deliver more extravagant set pieces is squandered. The result is a less coherent version of the first film in which everyone talks about magic but doesn’t really do any. And before I even realised a trick had taken place, someone was painstakingly explaining how they pulled it off, as if instantly looking for approval. Punctuating Now You See Me with a needy question mark would have been apt.
But what’s most frustrating about this is that it should work. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and newcomer Lizzy Caplan play The Horsemen likeably, and the essential concept of magician heist artists is one that should make Ocean’s Eleven look like A Fish Called Wanda. But the impressive young cast are shackled by a plot and script that do their best to paint them as farcical parodies of themselves. In one scene, the four of them skilfully fling around a playing card to avoid it being found by the world’s worst security guards. I’m not sure what Houdini would say about it, but it’d probably be along the lines of "bullshit".