Seeing is deceiving in Jon M Chu’s outlandish sequel to the 2013 crime caper about a team of wise-cracking illusionists known as the Four Horsemen, who expose the corrupt with their daredevil antics.
The first film was an enjoyable romp that lost its way with a hare-brained final act that cheated us as well as the gobsmacked characters.
Penned by the same three screenwriters, Now You See Me 2 is a similarly convoluted revenge thriller that repeatedly loosens its grasp on plausibility for the sake of cinematic thrills, with one notable exception.
A centrepiece sequence, which concerns the passing of a playing card around a high security vault, is a tour-de-force of nail-biting tension and snappy editing that genuinely quickens our pulses.
Nothing else in Chu’s film comes close to this merry-go-round of misdirection and sleight of hand that seems like it could be achieved with hours of practice.
Most of the original cast reprise their enigmatic roles and the sequel welcomes Daniel Radcliffe as a reclusive technical wizard, who ravenously chews scenery as he puts the lead quartet through the wringer.
Now You See Me 2 opens with a heartrending 1980s prologue that emboldens the underlying theme of father-son relationships.
Fast-forwarding to the present, it has been one year since the Four Horsemen outwitted Interpol and put former magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) behind bars.
“You will get what’s coming to you in ways you can’t expect but very much deserve,” threatens Bradley in a video blog from his prison cell.
FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) assigns the remaining Horsemen – close-up conjurer Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and street magician Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – a new case.
They must expose businessman Owen Case (Ben Lamb), who possesses software that maliciously steals personal data.
Sassy illusionist Lula May (Lizzy Caplan) replaces missing member Henley and the team infiltrates Case’s high-profile media launch to expose his skulduggery.
Alas, the trick is on the Horsemen and Dylan is publicly exposed as the Fifth Horsemen to his boss, Deputy Director Natalie Austin (Sanaa Lathan).
Meanwhile, Atlas, Merritt, Jack and Lula fall into the clutches of Macau-based mastermind Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), who requires the team to infiltrate a high-security facility housing Case’s data-mining technology.
“This is the key to every computer system on the planet. I want you to steal it for me,” grins Mabry.
Now You See Me 2 employs digital trickery like its predecessor, building to a firework-laden crescendo during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in London that is a damp squib.
Ruffalo, Eisenberg and co ease back into familiar roles while Caplan ramps up the comic relief.
Harrelson doubles his screen presence by portraying twins on opposite sides of the fight for justice.
Could it be magic? Not quite.