With the release of Now You See Me 2 (Electric Boogaloo), I take a look at 2013’s surprise hit
Despite being a staple of TV since its inception, packing Las Vegas theaters for decades, and having a gritty reboot more successful than Batman with cool street magicians like David Blaine, Criss Angel, and even our own Dynamo – why have there been so few films made about magicians? And I don’t mean the Harry Potter type. For comparison, how many films have been made about, say, boxers in the last decade?
After 2006’s double hit of The Prestige and The Illusionist (both excellent in their own right), we had a very British take on the idea with Mitchell and Webb’s Magicians. Then, in 2013 we had the comedic The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and the more serious Now You See Me (and technically I suppose Oz: The Great And Powerful). Steve Carell and Jim Carrey couldn’t stop The Incredible Burt Wonderstone from bombing, while Now You See Me was a huge success. But why?
Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are four magicians brought together by a mysterious figure and given the plans to a series of stage shows. A year later, the Four Horsemen (sadly not the Ric Flair stable from the 80s) put on a glittering Las Vegas show that culminates in an apparent bank robbery – especially impressive since the bank vault is in Paris!
Dylan Rhodes, an FBI agent played excellently by Mark Ruffalo, is put on the case, and is joined by Interpol’s Alma Dray (Inglourious Basterds’ Melanie Laurent). After unsuccessfully questioning the Four Horsemen, Rhodes and Dray call in Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) an ex-magician turned “truth exposer” who explains how the Four Horsemen pulled off the bank job, but with no proof, the Four Horseman are free to go, and set up their next show in New Orleans. Rhodes and Dray follow them, and after another robbery clears out the man who had invested in their show Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), they are still always just one step behind. Can Rhodes and Dray stop the Horsemen before their planned finale in New York? And who is the mysterious figure pulling the strings?
Now You See Me is a very fun film. There’s a lightness of touch and a briskness of pace that many films could learn from. It also balances its cast well, each of the Horseman has enough of a character to make their brief introduction memorable. Eisenberg gives the nominal leader Danny Atlas enough arrogance and showmanship to make him a believable headliner. Harrelson is just sleazy enough but still remorseful, and the mentalist touches to the character are a fun addition. Isla Fisher moves on from being defined simply as Atlas’s ex assistant (and lover), and Dave Franco is fun as the youngster with something to prove. It also good to see Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman have sizable roles, rather than just cameos.
Although I enjoyed the film immensely on its release, these types of films have to be pretty special to hold up to multiple viewings. I love a good heist movie, and the enjoyment comes from being able to see all the pieces slide into place, even if you know they are coming. Films like Ocean’s Eleven are still fun to watch, and maybe you can’t constantly rewatch them, but like any film that is done well, they will hold up.
There are a few issues with Now You See Me. The middle part of the film set in New Orleans feels like padding in a film that should be a taut thriller. There is some nice character development for Rhodes and Dray, but on the whole it feels extraneous, and a retread of what happened in the first Las Vegas show. I also get the feeling that the last scene might have been added in re-shoots. Without going into spoilers, like the New Orleans section it mostly plays into the Rhodes and Dray relationship, which isn’t a particularly interesting subplot.
There are positives to rewatching however. There is a bit of depth to the script that you might miss on first viewing. Eisenberg and Harrelson have a brief “have we met before?” moment that is a definite nod to Zombieland. Morgan Freeman also busts out a Shawshank Redemption line. And although there are still issues with the plot, it becomes a bit clearer on a second viewing. The stage shows (and the illusions they pull-off singularly at the beginning) are still exciting.
Like I’ve said numerous times… fun. Now You See Me doesn’t reveal all of it’s secrets in the brisk 2 hour run time, and even if you do know how the sausage is made, it’s still a pretty tasty sausage.
Also, there’s a mid credit scene on the DVD version that I don’t remember from the cinema, which may set up the sequel. If you can, catch it again.
What happened next? Now You See Me took over $350 million at the box office wordwide, enough to green light the sequel, which in turn has opened well enough at the American box office to apparently set the wheels in motion for a third installment.
Louis Leterrier made the lamentable Grimsby. Yeah.
Mark Ruffalo has continued to balance his blockbuster and more serious work, with Begin Again, Foxcatcher, and Spotlight earning rave reviews, while he continues to smash it as Bruce Banner/The Hulk in the Marvel Universe, next to be seen in Thor: Ragnarok.
Jesse Eisenberg has continued his march towards leading man status with roles in American Ultra and of course Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
Woody Harrelson followed this up with two of his very best roles, alongside Matthew McConaughey in the fantastic first season of True Detective and then an excellent turn in Out Of The Furnace. His role in The Hunger Games trilogy grew even more as the series went on, and he found himself on the other side of a heist in this year’s Triple 9. He continues to be awesome, with upcoming roles as Lyndon B. Johnson in Rob Reiner’s LBJ and one in War For The Planet Of The Apes.
Now You See Me 2 is released in the UK on 4th July.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
Like what you’ve read? LIKE us on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter by filling in the form below! That way you’ll never miss another review, fan cast, or general ramble from your favourite Ushers!