Saturday, 9 July 2016

Now You See Me 2

Now You Don’t

Now You See Me 2
2016 USA Directed by Jon M. Chu
UK cinema release print.

Okay then. I was quite harsh on the first film in this series, Now You See Me, when I reviewed it (right here) because of the usual “I saw that coming” predictable nature of the movie. That being said, I was also pretty positive about it, called it for what it was... an extremely entertaining movie... and was happy to watch it a second time. The sequel is a similar affair, in some respects... except it more than lives up to the high standard of the first movie. I won’t go so far as to call it a better movie than the first... but I will say it is at least its equal in many respects. If ever there was a sequel that truly follows the first movie, continues the main themes and builds on that story arc to a certain extent, this movie is it.

However, now I’ve said all that, there’s a real problem with this film before you even go to the cinema to see it... the title.

I remember I was at Brian Tyler’s debut concert in London, earlier in the year (reviewed by me here) and I saw/heard him premiere a suite of music from his score to this movie. As he started playing, the title of the movie was revealed to be... something other than Now You Don’t. Seriously people? You have the perfect title for a sequel implied by the opening half of a well known phrase used for the first movie and, instead of following it up with the expectation of a movie called Now You Don’t, you call it Now You See Me 2? I mean, c’mon? How dumb is that? It niggles me but I know some people who are really angry that the studios let it go out under this title. It really insults the audience too but... well, I guess the suits at Hollywood have a pretty good track record for insulting their audience, as they always have had.

Okay, so before I go on to point out why, even with a completely different director than the first magical confection, this film is another little slice of genius... let me get to the bad or slightly disappointing stuff first. Number one of which is a repeat of the main flaw of the first movie in that, certain elements of the story are actually quite obvious and predictable. There’s a major figure in the first movie, and I won’t say who because I don’t want to spoil this for anyone, who turns out to be not what he seemed in the previous one. It’s kind of a twist reveal near the end of the picture, once the main plot is all wrapped up, and the problem is that most people will probably see that coming a mile off. Also, like the first film, the very nature of the illusion (both real and created by the camera to con you it’s plausible), is such that, as an audience, you don’t take anything you see for granted and so, the tension and suspense I suspect you’re supposed to feel as the main plot comes to its conclusion, isn’t in any way unexpected... it’s sad to say.

My third disappointment with the film is that the two female leads from the previous movie, Mélanie Laurent and Isla Fisher (the lady horseman), are not present in this one. Which is a shame as they were both so fantastic in the first one. So there’s that. However, we have the brilliant Lizzy Caplan, who I loved in Cloverfield, playing Lula (the new lady horseman) and she’s just as amazing in this. Also, we have Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, playing the main villain of the piece along with another character from the first film. So there’s also that.

And the cast is great. I’ve already shouted out Caplan and Radcliffe but they’re joined by the main regulars of the previous movie in the form of Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman... who are all as brilliant as you would imagine them to be. We also have new cast members Tsai Chin (who was a regular in some of those old Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies), Jay Chou and the lovely Sanaa Lathan... all thrown into the mix with them and who are all, also, just as great in this. So there’s even that, too.

It’s not just this stuff that makes the movie so brilliant, though. There’s that same, very fast moving camerawork that was a stylistic trait of the first movie, coupled with some really sharp dialogue writing, spectacular set pieces, lots of hokum and, for the most part, action sequences which don’t involve car chases and shooting at people. It’s all good and it ties itself to the original movie straight away by giving us a very strong opening sequence, which is a closer look at the back story of Mark Ruffalo’s character, on the fateful day which set his original 30 year plan of revenge in motion. So, yeah, this film really works right from the opening shots and Brian Tyler’s incredible score.

And talking of Brian Tyler and his toe tapping, amazing score for this movie... I was pretty sure I spotted Mr. Tyler himself in a 'blink and you’ll miss him' cameo as a guy who checks and straightens Jesse Eisenberg’s tray in an early scene in the film... it’s only for a few seconds of screen time but... yeah. He’s not listed as being in it, in either the credits or the IMDB, but... pretty sure that’s him.

The really brilliant bit for me, though, is that the writers and director managed to completely misdirect my attention for a lot of the movie... which is quite appropriate but completely surprising to me for a film which is about nothing but misdirection. Again, I don’t want to say too much but one of the actors playing one of the horsemen has a certain element to his character which turns up in the film fairly early on in the proceedings and it’s like this thing is deliberately put there to make people like me realise it’s a set up and wait throughout the whole movie, and I did, for the writers to yank that string and use his character to bring in a twist. And the joke's on us because, with such an obvious and stupid set up for a character... the string is never pulled. It’s just a distraction to get you thinking about other things while the writers try to surprise you (mostly unsuccessfully, granted) with other stuff happening in the script. However, the fact that they got me thinking deliberately in another direction wins the writers a lot of brownie points here, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a brilliant and, possibly far too obvious, set up and the film is a lot smarter than that, it turns out. Not smart enough to be called Now You Don’t but, yeah, at least smart enough to fool me for a good long while. So well done on that score people... I was totally expecting ‘that’ character to be used as a switch later on.

And that’s it for Now You See Me 2. If you liked the first movie in this franchise, all I can say is that it certainly doesn’t let the first one down and, I suspect, a lot of people may like this one even more. There are some stupidly impossible illusions and real clichés of things magicians do here but, ultimately, it’s a really well oiled machine that is a joy to watch and it kept me thoroughly entertained the whole way through. Also, I loved the ending and the return of a trend to cinema of a secret organisation working behind the scenes that the law is unable to touch. The Eye, who we heard about in the first film, is not exactly Fantomas or Diabolik... but it’s similar in style to the spirit of Judex and, well... that can’t be a bad thing, I think.

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