This time around, the Horsemen are targeting Octa, a multi-national corporation run by greedy scoundrel Owen Case (Ben Lamb). The Horsemen make their brilliant debut and stun the world, but very quickly, things go wrong. One impromptu trip to Macau later, and boom, the Horsemen are in the clutches of Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), the former co-CEO of Octa who faked his death. Mabry has been scoring millions from his deathbed, but he needs something to put it all together and make him more powerful than ever before. He wants the Horsemen to do it, and if they don't, he'll kill them. The world's smartest crew of magicians is thrown into their most intense scheme yet, with danger at every corner. But as always, things may not be quite as simple as they seem.
In a summer dominated by loud, lumbering, clunky tentpoles, Now You See Me 2 stands out with its charming low-key vibe, carried by a group of charismatic actors who actually seem like they're having fun too. The action scenes feel unique and fresh, and it's clear that there was quite a bit of inspired invention that went into them. A standout scene involves the constant shuffle of a card carrying an important disk, which is bounced around between our four main characters as they attempt to avoid being caught by security. This sequence grips you with its sense of delightful trickery and insanity, testing your nerves, while also making you laugh with glee. The direction of Jon M. Chu is intelligent and quick-witted, cutting between characters and locations for some terrific setpieces.
Is the story still occasionally convoluted and riddled with plot holes? Yeah, I would be lying if I said that the sequel doesn't suffer from some of the same problems that hindered the original. There are just a few too many twists that seem to come out of left field, and they throw in one final turn at the end that feels like it might just be a bit much. But that said- isn't that sense of magical lunacy the charm of the Now You See Me franchise? The whole appeal is playing along with the characters and going "Wait, how did they do that?" around every turn. Now You See Me 2 builds on that idea, creating something that is often so ludicrous and so meticulously crazy that you just can't help but have a good time. Just when you think that the filmmakers can't pull another trick on you, they're back at it again with a different wild stunner, which makes for a fun experience.
Mainly, the sequel succeeds by continuing the story of the original, not just abandoning the setup and selling another adventure with the Four Horsemen. Screenwriter Ed Solomon progresses the characters in natural directions, tying up some of the loose ends from the ending of the last one. Now You See Me 2 completes the story arc from the original, and in retrospect, it improves on some of the last-minute twists that got lost in the shuffle of its predecessor's big reveal. Frankly, I didn't remember much about the end of Now You See Me, besides the initial shock of Ruffalo's double agent. Solomon knows this, and smartly builds off the more underdeveloped aspects of why Dylan Rhodes switched sides. The way that it mixes the characters is well done, and essentially, I liked where they took this story.
The franchise's cast has smartly built itself on the acting talents of Mark Ruffalo, who is without a doubt one of the best actors on the planet. Ruffalo has a rather meaty character in Rhodes (for an action movie, at least), and it's always fun to watch him have a good time. Rhodes is one of the few characters with a clearly defined arc, and the Avengers star pulls it off. He's backed up by a game ensemble, led by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Lizzy Caplan, all of whom seem to be having a blast in their magical roles (especially Harrelson, playing dual roles as Merritt and twin brother). Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman pop in for some added prestige, but for me, the standout was Daniel Radcliffe. The Harry Potter star has already pulled off playing a farting corpse this year with ease in Swiss Army Man, and in NYSM2, he gets the chance to play a real smarmy a-hole. And as a longtime Potter fan, it was a blast to watch.
For a film that runs at 130 minutes in length, Now You See Me 2 is a surprisingly zippy journey, never really dragging or testing the patience of its audience. Instead, it emerges as constant light-hearted fun, accompanied by a spectacular cast and a wide array of tricks and twists that will keep you on your toes. This sequel may not have been strictly "necessary" in the true sense of the word (and honestly, few sequels ever are), but as a heist movie and as a summer blockbuster, Now You See Me 2 is a breezy, highly enjoyable success.
THE FINAL GRADE: B+ (7.8/10)