Now You See Me 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie, it’s just a significant landmark on the road to the end of Western Civilization.
The movie picks up one year after its predecessor. The ridiculously named Four Horsemen, Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and new addition Lula May (Lizzy Caplan), have spent the year in hiding, but after half an hour rehashing the plot — the first movie was too forgettable for any less — they are summoned to expose a tech magnate for his evil personal information selling practices. That vaguely interesting storyline is interrupted, however, when the horsemen’s show stopping show is stopped and they are magically teleported to China where they meet the mastermind behind it all:
Harry Potter Walter Mabry ( Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe).
Now You See Me 2 is garbage. It’s pulpy nonsense that pretends it’s too smart and if you don’t like it it’s because you’re just too dumb to get it. But as insipid as it is, I can’t call it bad because American audiences have already deemed these kinds of flaws acceptable.
The rot at this movie’s core goes back to fight scenes in superhero movies — bear with me on this. Even fantastic worlds full of superpowers and technology that doesn’t exist have their own internal logic. They’re built on rules. Take this scene from Iron Man 2 — a fantastic, taut sequence from an otherwise mediocre movie.
General knowledge tells us what Tony wants to do — survive until he can suit up and fight back. The scene establishes what Whiplash can do, and video game knowledge tells us that the bright orb on his chest is the sweet spot. Because of rules the scene establishes, we have this tense fight where every blow has weight because you know what the limits are, what the risks are and what’s going to happen if a blow lands.
Compare that to WWE. You don’t have to watch the whole thing.
There appear to be rules here, too. The winner is whoever can pin their opponent for a three count. However, the fights are all rehearsed and staged. None of the blows are actually landing or having any impact on the pre-ordained outcome of the fight. Most pins are dramatically broken out of at two, and there are absolutely no rules as far as which ones get broken. The fight itself is meaningless. We’ll get to the ending in 10 minutes or so, but the actual blow-by-blow doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have any impact on the outcome. You get just as much out of it reading what happened the next morning. There are no rules, so there’s no reason to watch.
Now You See Me 2 is just like WWE. There are no rules you can apply to what you’re watching, so there’s no reason to watch it. The details don’t even appear to have an impact on the end result.
Just like the original, the magicians aren’t constrained by reality, and perform tricks that are simply impossible. The characters, for all intents and purposes, are scripted as omnipotent and omniscient, and nothing they do and no secrets they know are in any way impressive. Ironically, they become less impressive than real magicians, though they remain just as annoying. Most scenes end on some kind of twist that’s supposedly impossible, even though nothing is impossible since there are no rules, only to be given some supposedly fantastic explanation later on — but the explanation isn’t really fantastic, or even remarkable. Again, there are no rules here.
Creativity cannot exist without boundaries. If anything can happen in a movie, then nothing is surprising because nothing is unlikely. There’s no point in guessing what’s going to happen, because the answer is “whatever the the fuck screenwriter feels like.” For a movie as desperate to surprise its viewers and keep them guessing as Now You See Me 2 is, this is a bit of a problem.
The movie is packed with action scenes and expository montage scenes meant to be viewed as action scenes. They use rapid editing and bouncy tunes to distract viewers from how little the scene matters and instruct actors to be confused as a cue to the audience when something is supposedly out of place. It’s a lot like the weaker Christopher Nolan movies like Inception and The Prestige — it’s all designed to make you think it’s a smart movie, make you think there’ll be more to it on further analysis — or even a second viewing! — but really, it’s simply a bad movie.
This lack of substance is completely intentional. This movie represents a long trend of lowered audience expectation for blockbusters that goes back to a lot of the weaker movies in the past 15 years’ superhero parade. When critics demanded that what they were watching have some sort of internal logic, readers came back at them for nitpicking. Somewhere along the line, lazier filmmakers — such as director John M. Chu — realized they don’t need to pay attention to those sorts of details, that even though a lack of internal logic prevents viewers from really engaging with a movie, a massive portion of the audience doesn’t want to engage anyway. They want to lean back, ignore the sticky ooze covering the isles, gargle popcorn and give each other hand jobs, and if that’s all you want out of a movie, Now You See Me 2 is fine, I guess. But it’s not good. It’s not entertaining. It’s boring, bordering on annoying, just as empty an experience as the first one was.
And just as forgettable.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.