"Now You See Me 2" depends on your perception

"Seeing is believing. But is it the truth?" Morgan Freeman's ominous voice-over reintroduces the four Horsemen as they return to the big screen in Now You See Me 2. "People see the horsemen and noble robin hoods. Are they? Or are they common thieves Depends on your point of view," he muses.

The same question could be asked towards the audience in the theatre. Did the Horsemen have you under their hypnosis? Or did their magic lose its dazzle?

The main source of disappointment seems to stem from the subconscious expectation to be 'wow-ed'. The audience flock into the cinema having pre-conceived ideas of the magic tricks they wanted to see. In NYSM, the attention focused on their magic performances; NYSM 2 focuses on plot development and characterization. The divergent nature of these series means that the movie's flow would be different as well. Putting the Horsemen's situation into context in NYSM 2, the plot appears more understandable and acceptable.

As Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) said in the first NYSM, "the more you look, the less you see." Did you see the bigger picture in NYSM 2? Or were you too busy looking and scrutinizing individual details?

Sincerely, Sab

The piece below was originally published on the jakartapost.com here

The heists are bigger, the illusions are flashier and the pace is quicker. Now You See Me 2 welcomes the return of three of the four Horsemen—surly Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco)—along with newcomer Lula May (Lizzy Caplan), together with old-time rivals Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and FBI double-agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).

In this “second act”, the four Horsemen resurface from hiding into a comeback performance to expose the wrongdoings of a technology magnate, only to fall into the palms of Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who the Hogswart-alumni-turned-tech-prodigy offers them two choices: become his personal thieves and steal the world’s ultimate computer hacking chip or die.

Now You See Me 2 ( NYSM2 ) has received many mix reviews for a movie nicknamed the “try-hard cousin” of its predecessor, due to varying reasons since its release. Among them is the accusation that the producers were simply “attempting to woo the Chinese market” in order to “rake in the Yuan”. Even if that may be the case, there is nothing wrong with having the movie predominantly set in Macau. If Vegas is the heart of magic in the States, why can’t the sequel be set in Macau, the Vegas of China? Having Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou and Tsai Chin as the Horsemen’s Asian contacts is not just for show as they do have an actual role in the movie, and are not token characters with forced screen time.

Speaking of characters, Caplan’s Lula May fostered better character development and added flavor in the group dynamics as compared to Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves. In the first movie, Henley was immediately liked by the other three guys: Merrit has a thing for her, Jack and her are buddies, Atlas and her were ex-lovers, everyone was one big happy family. But with Lula, it’s different. Her snarky, quirky and unpredictable personality serves as a great foil to the three men’s supposedly-composed, structured selves. Caplan’s high energy kept the group dynamic strong and kinetic.

Oftentimes, the danger with sequels is the risk of the second movie being unable to top its preceding act. For our principled illusionists, that is definitely the case. Most of the audience comes flooding the theaters expecting to be mesmerized with magic but also subconsciously seeking for logic in the illusions. Sure, there was a ton of CGI, especially in the intense circuit-board stick smuggling card-swiping scene, but the planning of the acts was just as intricate.

A reason why many people saw the illusions as too “transparent” was maybe because the nature of the heist differed than that in the first movie. In NYSM, the Horsemen had blueprints, abundance of resources and ample time to prepare their performances, but when stuck in Macau without any guide whatsoever and having limited tools, their physics-defying act was quite a feat after all. Juxtaposed to NYSM, which allowed for performance time to build up the Horsemen’s reputation, NYSM2 was more focused on outwitting the enemy under a time limit. Inevitably, the stick-smuggling heist was done the best way that it could be done at that time.

In contrast to the first movie where the Horsemen sailed through their plans without a hitch, NYSM2 is more authentic in the sense that they actually get caught and stumped at their own game. The heroes actually face setbacks and make you grip onto your seat and bite your nails as you try to fathom how they could possibly escape. In fact, NYSM2’s plot advanced elements from the first movie, carrying forth themes of unity, as the Horsemen struggle to “work together as a single organism”, as well as motifs of revenge, with a familiar Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) revealed as the evil sociopath genius’ father.

Behind the scenes, the creative team also experienced changes in membership. Instead of Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt behind the screenplay’s drafting, NYSM2 got a credited rewrite by Ed Solomon (Men in Black) and Pete Chiarelli (The Proposal); similarly, the director chair, missing Frenchman Louis Leterrier, was filled in by Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms, Step Up sequels). Whether or not the off-screen team is to blame, again, would depend on one’s attitude towards the matter. Regardless, the performance of the actors on-screen (pun intended), shouldn’t be overshadowed by overly-judgemental criticism.

What has made it into the box office cannot be retracted, so all we can do now is sit tight and hope for the best for Now You See Me 3, which Lionsgate CEO Joh Feltheimer announced back in May 2015 that they had “already begun early planning”.

Whether or not Now You See Me 2 made for satisfying viewing depends on your perception. After all, seeing is believing.

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