NOW YOU SEE ME 2 *** A magically inspiring sequel to its predecessor

From years of watching NBC’s America’s Got Talent, I’ve learned at least two things about magic and magicians.  One, I never really look forward to their acts, and two, once they’ve begun their acts, I can’t take my eyes off the screen.  It seems that, in spite of myself, I’m a total sucker for well-done magic acts.

No surprise, then, that back in 2013 when the film Now You See Me, about a troupe of Robin Hood-like magicians called The Horsemen, came out, I kind of dragged myself to it, but was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  This year’s follow-up, Now You See Me 2, made me similarly skeptical, given that it’s a sequel (which are almost universally a disappointment compared to the original), but once again, I was pleasantly surprised.

In this outing, the Horsemen (returning stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, and newcomer Lizzy Caplan) once again are about taking down, in very public fashion, a nefarious ner-do-well.  This time he’s a diabolical young genius (Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe in a delightfully nasty turn) who is out to rip off all the personal information that anyone in the world has ever put on the Internet and sell it to the highest bidder.  There is, apparently, a super-computer in China powered by a next-generation quantum chip which can crash through any encryption system currently in use, a chip that has been stolen by Radcliffe’s character.  The job is to steal the chip back and expose the baddie, who supposedly died the year before.

As in the first edition, the Ocean’s Eleven-like Horsemen each use their particular illusionary specialities to pull off the caper in some of the slickest magic routines you’ll see outside of a Vegas casino show.  It’s fascinating, never-ending, and keeps you guessing quite literally to the last frames of the film.  The screenwriters have provided an intricate story that not only deepens and expands the relationships between the franchise’s characters (antagonists Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are also back this time…), but also delves into the universal mystique of magic and the dedication that magicians around the world have for preserving it.  Performances are solid all around from the cast, with special kudos for newcomer Caplan, whose Lula may not be as slick or sexy as Isla Fisher’s Henley Reed, but more than makes up for it with heart and humor, and Radcliffe, who makes a marvelous and honestly scary bad guy in his first such role in a major studio film.

To be sure, you’re going to get a lot more out of this show if you’ve seen (recently even) the first installment, but if you haven’t, don’t let that put you off.  You’ll still find this immensely entertaining, and don’t be surprised if the first thing you want to do as you’re walking out of the theater is to find some way to see the original.  They’re both magically satisfying movie fun.