Review: Now You See Me 2 (2016)

It Was Fun, But Then They Gave Up

by Ajeng Sharfina Adiwidya

Now You See Me 2 (2016)
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson
Copyright Summit Entertainments 2016

“Did you guys ever feel like the Eye is always watching? … No? Me neither.” -Lula May

I have to say, I wasn’t exactly tapping my foot anxiously as I waited on the edge of my seat for the movie to come out. I enjoyed the first movie immensely–I love their magic tricks as much as I love the smart secrets behind them, but like everything else, the magic and the hype eventually wears off. The first one didn’t leave too big of an impact for me personally other than a pleasant feeling of watching a fun movie. So when the opportunity arose and two friends invited me to tag along, I was like, “What the hell!”

Now You See Me 2 follows the story of the Four Horsemen–a group of vigilante magicians (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson, and Lizzy Caplan), after their explosive chasing game with the FBI in the first movie. After a year in hiding, the group, led by secret leader Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) stages a comeback act, which went awry when they got exposed–including Rhodes, who works as the mole in the FBI-and had to make an escape. The Four Horsemen then find themselves kidnapped to Macau with another mission from a sinister, sociopathic Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe). In desperation, they attempt to outwit the plan while Rhodes are forced to work with his rival Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). And of course, by this point of this whirlwind of a synopsis, you know that everything is not as it seems.

I’m not gonna delve too deep about the magic tricks in the movie because, 1) I’m not a magician, nor do I have enough knowledge about magic tricks, 2) I think it’s safe to say that they’re pretty fucking awesome. The ten-minute card sequence was a great fun to watch, and who could forget how Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) stopped the rain mid-drop and made it ‘fall’ in different directions? It’s flashy and outlandish and given it’s Now You See Me, it’s all in good fun.

And that’s how the first half of the movie felt for me. It was light, slightly weird (what with Merritt having a twin brother, also played by Harrelson) and the banter between the characters was pleasantly cheeky. But somewhere along the way, I felt the writer just stopped giving a shit and went, “ah, fuck it.” There are so many things going on–the Four Horsemen on their heist, Mabry’s relationship with his father, Rhodes’ vengeance against Bradley due to his father’s death, and so on. It’s so easy to fall into the deep dark hole of melodramatic tropes when you just need to have a [clenches fist] plot twist. Some of the twists worked, especially those relating to their grand schemes, but the dramatic ones are painfully cheesy and plainly trope-y. It’s such a shame, really, considering they have fantastic actors to deliver the scene (Mark Ruffalo is every bit as human in the way he expresses the complexity of Rhodes’ emotional turbulence.) Nevertheless, I found myself cringing so hard when the Horsemen, when they’re down and out, started quoting Lionel Shrike, Rhodes’ late father, on the philosophy of his great artistry and talked about their motivation to be a magician in the first place. By the time the old Chinese lady (Tsai Chin) and his grandson Li (Jay Chou) step in and reveal themselves as members of The Eye–bringing tea and wisdom, my eyes rolled so far back, I could see my own brain.

Being an English Lit student and having talked extensively about race and representation (especially that of people of color) in classes, it’s now almost impossible for me to unsee it whenever I’m out in the real world. With NYSM2, I felt particularly icky about Li and the old lady. It reminds me so much of the air of mystery that has been so closely identified with Asians–like they know something you don’t know. It’s odd, because right out of the movie theater, I came across a BuzzFeed article of the director, Jon M. Chu, on how he subtly infused his Chinese heritage into this movie and his decision not to exoticize China and its people. Chu pointed out the coolness in Li, who positively looks like a stud, and the refreshingly honest remark he made when Atlas attempts to explain what he’s saying to his grandmother;

“Just because you talk slower and with your hands, doesn’t mean she can suddenly understand English.”

But still, as I previously mentioned about the part where I think the writer just gave up, it only went downhill from there. The only two featured Asian characters (in which a good part of the movie is set in goddamn China, mind you!) are nothing more than a plot device without much room for depth. I respect and appreciate Chu’s effort of fixing the age-old stereotypical Asian narratives, but evidently, there’s still a long way to go. Because “Ta-da, we have descended from our super-secret magician council and we are going to save you from your doom!” really doesn’t do them justice.

All in all, the movie was generally quite entertaining–I mean, who doesn’t love a little laugh, a good magic trick and some sick beats? Brian Tyler composed a kickass score with the lavishness of a big brass band and the ethereal, Amazing Spider-man-esque feel to go with the elaborate tricks. But, plot-wise, their tricks were as old as coins behind the ear. We’ve seen it countless times –some of us probably have figured out how it works. Maybe with the overall weight of the movie, the creators felt that there’s simply not enough room for a better-thought out twists to these ends. Too bad, I’d say, because it could have been so much more and so much better. 5/10.

Kurnia Cahya Putra

A self-proclaimed movie geek.

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