Classic Review: Now You See Me Series (2013-2016)

Since I’ve started this site, I’ve written a lot of reviews. In case you missed some of my earlier ones, I would like to share a pair of reviews of both Now You See Me films which originally appeared here and here respectively.

Now You See Me

Charismatic magician named Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) leads a team of three talented illusionists, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) called the Four Horsemen. Atlas and his comrades mesmerize audiences with a pair of amazing magic shows that drain the bank accounts of the corrupt and funnel the money to audience members. An FBI agent named Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol detective named Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) intend to rein in the Horsemen before their next caper, and they must turn to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a famous debunker, for help.

There have not been too many films about magic so this peeked my interest in this. The trailers made it look very cool and I was excited to see what the magic would look like on screen. Of course I’ve seen this before so at least that’s what I thought then. The amazing cast featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Morgan Freeman didn’t exactly hurt it either. I will admit that I did not remember this as much as I should so it was definitely nice to see it again.

This is film was when the team we know and love first came together under the most mysterious circumstances. We got a glimpse of each of them early on, as well as each of their different personalities. They were still fun to watch individually but it would have nice to have seen more of it. There wasn’t really much character development beyond these initial scenes (maybe this will improve in the next film). Their individual personalities kind of faded a little bit once they came together and the team felt taken over by Atlas and his dominant personality. He became a leader and never really gave the others a chance.

Atlas was the only one who really showed any personality here. Atlas was a character who was just full of confidence, bordering on arrogance. He’s definitely a heavy, quick talker which makes him come off as smug and annoying. There surely could not have been anyone more suitable to play him than Eisenberg. He and Harrelson’s McKinney also had some fun exchanges. McKinney was probably the one who came closest of the other three to get any focus. Despite that, they were still fun to watch together thanks to their great chemistry and good, witty dialogue between each other. Their relationship was the best part of the film.

The basic plot itself was simple enough as it consisted of the horseman traveling from place to place and performing shows featuring various magical acts which dazzled. Although some of their tricks defied belief, they were still mostly well done and the different effects behind them were great as well. Once they robbed a bank in Paris from a show in Las Vegas, this got the attention of the FBI and agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo). From then on, the horseman had to keep hiding their involvement and evade capture as Rhodes along with Interpol agent Alma Dray (Laurent) stayed on their tail while trying to figure out how they did what they did. In order to do so, they enlisted the help of a former magician and now magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman). Bradley had a vested interest in this as well as he was also trying to debunk the horsemen.

Their cat and mouse game between the horseman and Bradley and also with them and the  authorities was very fun to watch and compelling here but it did get a little frustrating at times because of the fact one side was always several steps ahead of the other. Most of the fun here came from us, as viewers, trying to figure out how they did what they did. This worked for the most part but the story took this a little too far when it implied that there was something more going on behind the scenes that was fueling their journey. Because of that, the film started to get sillier as it was building up to its rather convoluted end which may frustrate some as it just felt unnecessary and stretched out the plot to a point that it made the film a little too long.

All of the performances were good here with Eisenberg standing out playing a type of character we’ve seen him play on multiple occasions. Ruffalo was good but didn’t really stand out here. Laurent was okay but her forced relationship with Rhodes was kind of unnecessary. Freeman stole a lot of his scenes as well. Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler was probably an unnecessary character but he and Bradley had some fun interactions.

Overall, this was still a fun movie with some good magic tricks but was a little undermined by its forced convoluted plot.

Score: 7.5/10


Now You See Me 2

After fleeing from a stage show, the illusionists Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and Lula (Lizzy Caplan) known as the Four Horsemen find themselves in more trouble in Macau, China. Devious tech wizard Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) forces the infamous magicians to steal a powerful chip that can control all of the world’s computers. 

I was a fan of the first Now You See Me as I am a fan of magic films, despite there not being much of them, and of magic in general. The first film was cool and the magic looked good for the most part but I found the story a little convoluted. I was hoping that with another film in the series (and a third film in the future), these things would improve.

The benefit of this film is that since there was already a film before it, it doesn’t have to waste time since the team has already been put together with the film picking up not too long after the first. While the previous film ended with some questions, this one tries to answer some early on while also asking new questions. It just felt like the path was a little clearer here. The only real drawback to this is that those who haven’t seen the previous film might be lost at first.

Those wondering about the absence of Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves, she left the group over the year the Four Horsemen spent in hiding after the events of the previous film. With unrest forming within the group as they are tired of being in hiding, they finally get the opportunity to perform again but things quickly don’t go as planned after they find themselves in China. While there, tech wizard Walter Mabry (Radcliffe) enlists them to steal a powerful chip with the power to control all of the world’s computers. Sure, we never get an idea of how powerful this chip really is but that’s besides the point.

Radcliffe’s Mabry was a great addition here as a villain but he still felt a little underused here as the film definitely could have gone further with him. He seemed to always just be lurking most of the time so if we had more of a sense of how much of a bad guy he was, what the Horsemen did would have more impact. The topic of human surveillance obviously came up here because of this but there was much more going on here. The team has to come together once again, also obviously because of the new team member in Lula, but after a year in hiding, they have to figure out how to do it again. Without giving anything away, there is something else but it has a little to do with the previous film.

Just like in the previous film, you kind of have to suspend belief when it comes to all the magic tricks. Also like the previous film, some of the tricks defy human belief (you have to remember that this is a film) and the fact that a lot of people fall for them and/or are oblivious to them happening defy belief and some might have a problem doing this but this film works the best when this happens. Believability  aside, the tricks themselves are still well done with the scene involving everyone and a card being thrown around, which everyone has probably seen part of in the trailers, standing out.

Dan thought the film was convoluted and too smart for its own good. While he is right about the film being a little too smart (and the first one was as well), the film is nowhere near convoluted. The first film was more convoluted. While Franco and Fisher were a little marginalized in the first film because of Eisenberg’s Atlas almost dominating scenes, this wasn’t really the case here with he and now Caplan playing more of a role this time around. The film definitely could have gone without their forced relationship but Wilder asserted himself more and Caplan had some nice quips while trying to fit in with the group. The film’s secondary characters were used well enough here with the exception of Morgan Freeman’s Thaddeus Bradley. He was the best part of the first film and had a strong chance to repeat that here. Despite that, he was still great here.

The performances all around were good here and a little more even than the previous film with Eisenberg not dominating the scenes which allowed for a little more personality amongst the other Horsemen. Their chemistry, even with a new member, still was the best part here with the great dialogue remaining. They were still very fun to watch together. Ruffalo was better here in an elevated role, with more action and interaction with the Horsemen. He also had great chemistry with them. A low point, for sure, has to be a twin to Harrelson’s McKinney being introduced for no reason. Another has to be the ending which was a little too convenient.

Overall, there were still problems here new and old but there still is some fun to be had, if you condition yourselves properly

Score: 7.5/10

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