Jon M. Chu’s Now You See Me 2, more so than its predecessor, both recognizes and condescends to our desire to pinpoint the mysteries of the Four Horsemen’s elaborate magic tricks. If you think you know how J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is able to defy the laws of physics and make the rain that falls throughout London actually rise toward the heavens, in the lead-up to the group’s final trick on the River Thames, you’re probably wrong. In every case, even the seemingly simplistic variation of three-card monte that Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) performs at a nearby city square, the audience’s resistance is futile. Until the point where one of the Horsemen details the intricacies of a trick, you’re implicitly tasked with accepting yourself as just another slack-jawed member of a sensation-happy mob.
If it weren’t so totally and compulsively obsessed with laying the groundwork for the Four Horsemen’s ruses, Now You See Me 2 could be understood as a conscious commentary on the Hollywood blockbuster model and how it banks on your subservience. One plot contortion follows the next as the Horsemen, having returned from their self-imposed exile, seek to pull the wool over the eyes of Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), a tech genius who faked his death and enlists the group to steal for him the very computer chip he invented which grants its owner the ability to hack into every computer system on the planet. Naturally, the implications of such power are less of a concern to the film than, among other things, rationalizing Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher as the Horsemen’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl and both sentimentalizing the death of Dylan Rhodes’s (Mark Ruffalo) father and further complicating Thaddeus Bradley’s (Morgan Freeman) relationship to the group.
Now You See Me 2 splits its time almost evenly between London and Macau, the hustle and bustle of which is rendered with a backlot-seeming anonymity that’s of a piece with Chu’s unexpectedly pop-less direction; the elaborate pilfering of the computer chip hinges on the Horsemen foisting between them a playing card whose sad CGI-ness distracts from the actors’ otherwise slick body movin’. One expects a sequel to up the ante on audiences, but the sheer amount of people and incident indifferently presented throughout this film, from Merritt McKinney’s (Woody Harrelson) evil twin to Caplan’s Lula throwing herself at Jack, suggests only an obligation to quota-filling. It also accidentally gives credence to Thaddeus’s homily about the emptiness of experiencing a magic trick whose required setup has been so transparently laid bare.