Like most erudite (or, if you prefer, snobbish) modern film fans, I’m always ready to spring forth to decry the practice of making all decisions about which projects see the light according to a strained equation about the likelihood of spinning the material into a myriad of interconnection ancillary series. There can’t just be new Star Wars films. There must be a robust Star Wars universe, exploring side avenues and hidden histories that previously piqued the curiosity of precisely no one. But maybe — just maybe — if studios are going to commit to films largely on the basis of repeatability, we’re all better off with stories shaped from the start with narrative sprawl in mind.
Now You See Me 2 feels out of place in the current franchise culture. Instead, it’s a dismal callback to the nineteen-eighties, when every box office success, no matter how modest, spawned a sequel conceived in haste. The original film was a fun concept (Ocean’s Eleven, but with magicians!) that could barely endure the flood of complications it naturally and necessarily engendered. It was charming enough and deeply forgettable, even with a ludicrously overqualified cast (and Dave Franco!).
The sequel is a quintessential example of slapdash opportunism. The original crew of prestidigitating grifters is back, brining no real rationale for their continued camaraderie. They’re here because, hey, it’s a movie. And elements are thrown in with goofy abandon — ego-driven rivalries, bratty twins, strange cabals of competing criminals — until the film feels like a thousand swirling details in search of a purpose.
Nothing exemplifies the problems more than a mid-film scene during which the mischievous magicians steal an incredibly powerful computer chip. As directed by John M. Chu — who apparently go the assignment on the strength of Jem and the Holograms or G.I. Joe: Retaliation — the scene is a bumbling embarrassment, depicting the supposed geniuses of misdirection as a group of nitwit oddballs who couldn’t convince a gaggle of drunken toddlers that their noses had been apprehended and removed with a sweep of the hand. Physics are incidental, and the skepticism of fierce security experts is as soft as a marshmallows after few spins in the microwave.
I made it approximately halfway into its 129 minute running time.
Previously in The Unwatchables…
— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, directed by Michael Bay
— Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton
— Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips
— Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder
— Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
— After Earth, directed by M. Night Shyamalan
— The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster