Now You See Me 2 (2016)

(Video on-Demand, September 2016) I liked the first Now You See Me almost despite myself; acknowledging that the zippy pace, good cast and promising set pieces were often sabotaged by an unnecessary final twist, self-defeating CGI special effects and more energy than sense. Much of the same remains true about its sequel, except that Now You See Me 2 feels even less clever, less necessary and less energetic than the original. Oh, it’s certainly still fun to watch the exploits of magicians turned Robin-Hood outlaws, the various factions vying to control them and the clever set pieces that the likable protagonists have to navigate. Jesse Eisenberg is still remarkably fun as the alpha nerd, with able supporting turns by the dependable Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Caine. Lizzy Caplan is new to the series, but makes enough of a good impression to shut down excessive complaints about Isla Fisher’s absence. The scope of the film is multi-continental, and director John M. Chu’s pacing is zippy enough. But if you want the film’s strengths and failures in a nutshell, contemplate the extended sequence in which members of the team flick and manipulate a crucial card so that guards don’t find it as they’re searched: On one level, it’s a dazzling one-shot filled with slick sleight-of-hand, audacious physical performances, great CGI and drummed-up tension. On another, though, it’s overblown, showy, overlong and almost completely superfluous once they get to their ultimate trick … which negates what they’ve just spent three minutes doing. So it goes with the rest of the script, which seems more interested in repeating by-now-predictable thrills in favour of anything approaching coherence. The final act is substantially duller than it should have been, and that’s largely because by this time in the series, we’ve figured out much of the way it works. As with the first film, Now You See Me 2’s conclusion comes with a big shrug. Surely there’s a way to use this series’ energy to more substantial use?

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