“NOW YOU SEE ME 2” — 3 stars — Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe; PG-13 (violence and some language); in general release
In the 2013 blockbuster “Now You See Me,” an all-star team of illusionists known as the Four Horsemen outsmarted federal agents and escaped by vanishing into thin air — literally. Since then, they have ceased making public appearances and have devoted their time and energy to uncovering details about an ancient magical society known as “The Eye.” But when a wildly popular cellphone company introduces a new product that would intentionally compromise the privacy of every computer system in the world, the Horsemen decide to resurface and take matters into their hands.
Reviving their infamous “Robin Hood” style of trickery — compensating the innocent by taking down corrupt corporations — the Horsemen (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson and newcomer Lizzy Caplan) show up at the extravagant product launch, ready to expose the company’s unethical practices.
But things go terribly wrong when tech wiz Walter Mabry (a devious Daniel Radcliffe) hijacks the presentation, bringing to light some of the Horsemen’s secrets and exposing the troupe’s whereabouts to the FBI. It’s only a matter of time before Mabry backs the Horsemen so far into a corner that they have no choice but to join him in a globe-trotting escapade that will culminate in their most intricate heist yet.
While reluctantly assisting with this dastardly scheme, the Horsemen continue to work with their leader, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), an FBI agent who is the fabled “Fifth Horseman,” to bring Mabry down unsuspectingly. That’s a tall order, though, and it will take everything in their power to pull it off — even if it means reaching out to an unusual ally for help along the way.
A basic knowledge of the first film is highly recommended beforehand, as “Now You See Me 2” touches upon several topics that viewers unfamiliar with the franchise may have difficulty understanding. A couple major events from the original movie serve as central plot points in the sequel and the new movie doesn’t slow down to bring first-time viewers up to speed or remind returning fans where they left off.
"Now You See Me 2" outdoes the original in practically every way. The illusions are grander, the soundtrack is rocking and the characters are more fun. Franco's reprised take on Jack Wilder is a noteworthy improvement, and Radcliffe is an exciting addition to the cast. The movie is also considerably more humorous than its predecessor — thanks largely to Caplan — although several comedic moments featuring Harrelson are so distracting that they would almost be better suited for “Zoolander 2.”
Cinematically, the movie is dazzling — a stylish, sprawling spectacle with tremendous special effects and no shortage of on-screen action. The frenetic pace is undeniably entertaining, but due to its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature, some of the more complicated plot twists in the third act might not land the way they’re intended to.
Despite its minor flaws, the real magic of the movie is that it gets the audience to play along with such ease, keeping viewers guessing until the credits start to roll. Certainly, any expectations set by the first movie are easily met, if not surpassed, this second time around. With an appropriate suspension of disbelief, audiences ought to find the sequel aggressively fun from start to finish, especially one particular card trick sequence that should be an early contender for Scene of the Year.
“Now You See Me 2” is rated PG-13 for violence and some language; running time: 129 minutes.