Monday, June 13, 2016

Theatrical Review: Now You See Me 2

Date: Sunday June 12, 2016
Location: Pocono Movieplex
Time: 1:10pm
Duration: 129 minutes (+3 trailers)
Party: 2 (my sister & I)

Director: John M. Chu
[notable credits: Step Up 2 and 3 and the Justin Bieber documentary film]

J. Daniel "Danny" Atlas- Jesse Eisenberg
FBI agent Dylan Rhodes- Mark Ruffalo
Merritt McKinney- Woody Harrelson
Lula -Lizzy Caplan
Jack Wilder- Dave Franco
Owen Case- Ben Lamb
Walter Mabry- Daniel Radcliffe
Li- Jay Chu
FBI Deputy Director Natalie Austin- Sanaa Lathan
FBI Agent Cowan- David Warshofsky

Thaddeus Bradley- Morgan Freeman
Arthur Tressler- Michael Caine

[Opening Comments]
I'll include my review of the original movie in case anyone is interested.

I liked the original. Enthralled by the special effects and loved the all-star cast. Despite all the bad reviews, a sequel went into the works almost immediately. And supposedly, there is already talk of a THIRD installment.
I guess people love magic... or the cast members. It's hard to say at this point.

It'll be interesting to see Daniel Radcliffe play a bad guy, but even before seeing the movie, I'm not wholly convinced he's the only "villain" this movie has. That'd only be too easy, right?

Lizzy Caplan is another newcomer. Most people (including myself) know her best as Janis Ian from "Mean Girls." Seeing no trace of Isla Fisher (one of the original "Four Horsemen") in the trailers, I wondered if something bad happened that made her pull out.
According to IMDb, the designated female role was given to Lizzy because of Isla's pregnancy. Still so weird to me that she's with Sacha Baron Cohen of all people... even though his profile says that he's nothing like the characters he plays.
And they didn't recast the role of Henley. Lizzy plays a brand new character, a new member of the magical quartet known as the "Four Horsemen"). So with that in mind, I wonder if they'll address Henley's absence in the movie or if Lizzy may possibly be a villain.

Seriously, a movie about magic, anything can happen. The identity of the mysterious 5th Horseman in the previous film proved that. [I didn't give that away in my last review, but there's a good chance I may have indulge that secret in order to properly review this movie].

[Audience Comments and Coming Attractions]

The two of us were among maybe 10 people in the entire theater, which is a slightly better turnout than the first movie. We were there for a couple minutes when the first three showed up. Two girls and a guy. The guy walks in, then says to his companion "we might have trouble finding a seat, it's packed." Of course, complete sarcasm. We had so many commercials before the previews (seriously, there must be have been 24 commercials in the 15 minutes we waited until the movie started... the movie didn't even start on time). He was reading subtitles and made some comments to amuse himself. Don't remember anything specific, but at least someone had humor about the situation.
A group of four walked in during one of the previews. And there were moments of laughter throughout the movie, but only 3-4 times.

I wondered to myself beforehand what trailers they would have because Summit Entertainment doesn't have anything big coming out. Then I noticed as we progressed that Lionsgate was also one of the studios. Either way, I was hearing of two of the movies for the first time.

We were going back and forth between "Warcraft" and this movie and the day before, my sister said we should go to this one. But even then, I was worried with the previews that unfolded that it might have been too much. She's not into scary movies or thrillers with intense scenes and that's what all the movies had in common.

Deepwater Horizon starring Mark Walberg and Kate Hudson
Within seconds, I knew exactly what this movie was going to be about and I was FURIOUS. They are actually making a survival story about the BP oil spill. The worst oil spill in history and they made a movie to profit from it. I don't care that it's been 6 years. That is just in poor taste.
I remember being in a panic about it for months, dying to go down there to help in some way, but I couldn't because I had a job. A job I lost that September. And by then, there was nothing to do. I mean, the oil spill wasn't a end-of-the-world scenario, but it threatened to devastate an entire ecosystem. Not to mention how many cruise lines and vacation spots it could have impacted if it wasn't stopped.
I think Mark Walberg might also be attached to a movie they're planning to make about the Boston marathon bombing. Again, poor taste. Just like 9/11 films like "United 93." Movies like "Remember Me" and "Extremely Loud and Close"- they were fine because they were about how people were affected by the 9/11 tragedy, not about the tragedy itself.
Then with the Benghazi film- possibly in poor taste, but at the same time, it's a story that needs to be told and not forgotten about.

Sorry if I'm getting too political, but in dire times like these, it's hard not to. The day we're seeing this movie, the Orlando night club shooting happened, and it served as a good escape from all that negativity and just being terrified that the world is falling apart.

Nerve starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco
We saw the movie poster for this in the lobby. The text was written backwards, but I read easily. It had Emma Roberts facing computer screen. NERVE was at the top. And below it had two boxes that can be clicked on- WATCHER or PLAYER.
This was maybe the craziest trailer I'd ever seen. Whether it ran for 3 or 5 minutes, it felt like 10, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.
The premise is an online experiment. You can either be a "Player" who follows a list of instructions in hopes of winning a lot of movie. Or you can be a "Watcher" who make the suggestions to the players and observe what happens.
Emma Roberts plays a girl who'd never taken any risks in her life and her friends convince her to give it a try. In the first "dare" [the opening monologue said this game was truth or dare but without the truth], she kisses a random guy, who happens to be played by Dave Franco. I thought- "nice plug"- because he plays one of the Four Horsemen in this movie. And the two of them wind up going on this journey together. But there comes a point where it goes downhill and the "watchers" basically are holding them hostage until they complete the game.
I say this was the craziest trailer I'd seen- not just because of the heart-racing action. But I don't think I'd ever had this great a Ping-Pong match while watching a trailer. I went back and forth so many times trying to decide if this movie is going to be really bad or if, in fact, it is GENIUS. If the reviews are good, I just might consider it.

The Shallows- starring Blake Lively
Yeah, I don't need to go into detail about this one. It's a survival movie and there's a great white shark involved. And seriously, how bad does your career have to be where you have to agree to something like this? And "Jaws" touched on this archetype YEARS ago- does it really need to be revisited?

[Other Reviews and Ratings]
Going back to my review on the first movie, I decided to bring this back.

Going by headlines alone, is 50/50 on this. David Ehrlich hated the original so much that he didn't even give the sequel a chance. Liz Calvario is more lenient, saying "the thrills disappear" but the cast still shines.

Richard Roeper either hasn't reviewed this movie yet or he simply refuses to because there's no record of it on his website. It's just as well. He gave the original a really bad score.

Yet IMDb still has a positive rating: 7.2 out 10 stars.

The consensus on Rotten Tomatoes goes one of two ways. People either hate the movie entirely or they suggest turning your brains off and just taking it for what it is.

The trailers and the behind-the-scenes special on HBO looked impressive. And seeing as I liked the first one so much (although despite my comment on my post, I did not get the DVD... somehow it just slipped my mind).

[The Story]

I'm sorry, but I cannot process without SPOILING the events of the first movie.
So be forewarned... also some mild spoilers ahead about this current movie...

The Four Horsemen have been in hiding for a year. And Atlas is impatiently waiting for instructors from 5th Horseman. After making a final plea to "the eye" (a mysterious person or persons that lead this organization whose job it is to right wrongs committed by people in power), he finds Lula in his apartment. Someone he'd never met before, but somehow knows all about the Four Horsemen's antics, the fact Jack Wilder is alive, Henley left [answering my question about whether her absence would be addressed] and so on.
The scene we met Henley in the first movie caught me off guard and I'm still ill-at-ease about it. Apparently, we have to continue that theme and give Lula's magic a gross-out factor. I'm not saying women can't do gross stuff, but just why?

And in their downtime, it appears that Merritt and Jack are trying to teach each other their unique talents.
I commented in my "Now You See Me" post that Jack Wilder was not to be underestimated... that appears to be a continuing theme and it works out pretty spectacularly. Yes, even more than the fact he survived the first movie's car accident.

The Horsemen finally reunite with their leader and the rest meet Lula for the first time. [And she actually used my words- calling herself "the designated female Horsemen].
Their next gig is at a launch party for a new piece of technology and they need to expose Owen Case's agenda. That his new technology will allow him to access and download everyone's private information. But their plan goes so horribly wrong that it's scary. It's hi-jacked by someone else remotely who exposes all the players. That Jack Wilder is still alive and that the 5th Horsemen is a member of the FBI.

The biggest SPOILER about "Now You See Me" that I didn't disclose until now...

Dylan Rhoades (aka Mark Ruffalo) from the FBI was actually behind all the tricks and heists executed in the first movie. And his motive behind it all- framing Thaddeus Bradley and putting him behind bars. Given the flashback we start with here, it's easy to piece together the fact Dylan blames Thaddeus for his father's death. His father was Lionel Strike- one of the greatest magicians- who died performing his final trick.

As the Four Horsemen flee, they take their planned escape route... but like Harry Potter winding up in Knockturn Alley in the "Chamber of Secrets," they don't proceed carefully enough and take the wrong escape route. And they find themselves in Macau. The movie refers to it as the "Las Vegas of Asia" but in layman's terms, it's a Chinese peninsula that's close to Hong Kong.
Here, they not only run into Merritt's twin brother, Chase [who used to be his partner in magic business] but they learn he's working for Walter Dabry- Owen's ex-business partner who the world believes to be dead.

So with my assumptions going in about the new cast members, I broke even. Lula didn't wind being a bad guy (although we had a sequel on the horizon, so there's still that possibility), but Walter isn't the supreme villain in this movie.
Even though he took a bunch of selfies with the Horsemen, knocked out en route to Macau (one of the biggest laughs the movie got- the second in response to Daniel Radcliffe, it's in his final scene, but I'm not gonna spoil that), he is still a bad guy with a lot of control and he means business.

The Horsemen commit a heist for him, stealing the technology that can unencrypt any computer system in the world. The technology being metal and the entry way to its location being a built-in metal detector... it's bound to make things difficult and my belief changed into utter disbelief the longer the scene went home.
Atlas tries to get them out of their contract to Walter and fails miserably.
Luckily for him, Dylan uncovers their location, arrives to save him, but almost gets himself killed in the process.

The movie goes back and forth between the Macau misadventures and Dylan having to swallow his pride and seek Thaddeus Bradley for help- under the impression he was behind their disappearance.
He breaks him out of jail, Thaddeus says where they need to go, and he gives him the slip when they visit a local magic shop. A place the Four Horsemen went to get supplies from local magician Li and his grandmother.

Thaddeus returns later in the film and his overall contribution to the story. Not just the current one, but what happened to Lionel Strike. It's not exactly what you expect and it's kinda cool. But it also leaves behind a bit of a headache.

As does the rest of the movie.
In a cryptic online message, the Horsemen threaten to expose Walt (without actually mentioning his name) using the technology they stole and the final act takes place in London.
This is where the majority of the magic happens in the movie. Of course, it's thrilling to watch and it's dazzling.

But the critics might be right about this one. The story gets a little convoluted. As good as our heroes are at what they do, it becomes harder to believe that they are going to come out on top. Until the final moment, nothing seemed to be working in their favor. Unless you account for the fact you didn't see who drove the van that captured them and brought them to the bad guys.
The only way I knew that for sure was the unspoken contract between movie and audience: The good guys always win.

And at the end, there are a few secrets and reveals still to come and a little bit of a cliff-hanger. The Horsemen are at the headquarters of "the eye" and they see something at the bottom of a spiral staircase that they run towards... but we never see what it is. Maybe it's nothing, but it could also be something that will lead us to the upcoming sequel.

[Other Comments]

Yeah, I found it really distracting and kinda stupid to write a twin brother for Woody Harrelson's character. To me, it felt like an excuse not to put someone else on the payroll. On a previous occasion, he said he mentioned someone who took everything from him, but with so much emphasis on the special effects, who's going to remember details like that?
[Well, I'm usually better at it, but it'd been 3 years since I last saw it].

Daniel Radcliffe played a pretty good villain, but of course he wasn't the only one involved.
It's kinda funny how "revenge" is a common theme.

In a way, they borrowed from "Ocean's 12" where the good guys were forced to work for Andy Garcia to get back the money he stole from them.
The money that was stolen by the Horsemen in the previous movie belonged to him and his father. And the two of them aim to exact their revenge.
We have that and Dylan's vendetta against Thaddeus and how he believes the disappearance of the Horsemen was Thaddeus's revenge against his framing and false arrest.
Both have radically different results.

For a role that has some sickness involved, Lizzy Caplan was the right person for it. She showed no fear and is just weird enough to make it work.
There's a potential romance also between her character and Dave Franco's. It's explored, but only at the surface. At least in this movie.

Grade: A-/B+
[the margin between the two grades is insanely slim. The difference is whether or not I care about the convolution and excess length in a couple places. Not a bad sequel, but the original did it better]


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