There’s a sequence halfway through “Now You See Me 2” where its four-way team of illusionists put the movie’s street chases, gunfire and action/thriller violence on hold to flip a playing card with a computer chip MacGuffin back and forth in a room full of bad guys, invisibly. The card flips, floats, slithers through the team’s clothing, crosses their fingers and keeps vanishing from the opposition just before they can spot it.
It’s clever skulduggery, easy to sit back and enjoy, and that’s essentially what the film pulls off. It’s all about mystery and suspense, deceiving the audience in entertaining ways. It’s much more enjoyable than the typical summer sequel du jour. Think of “Oceans 12” and “13” with illusions, and extended overseas sections for the increasingly crucial international markets.
A follow-up to the 2013 franchise setup, it cleverly finds new ways to cover old ground. It combines earlier established players (a top-notch crew of Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and more) and themes (using magic and mentalist tricks to frustrate evildoers) while making the repetition stylishly fun to follow.
Eisenberg returns as Atlas, a key member of the Four Horsemen, who are at the same time world famous stage magicians and secretive crime-fighters. He’s the team’s snotty, bossy John Lennon type. As Merritt “the mentalist,” Harrelson’s hypnotic powers earned most of the laughs in the first film. Here he doubles down as a long-lost relative who resurfaces to upset Merritt’s applecart. Dave Franco’s slick sleight-of-hand artist Jack is the ladies’ candy, and Lizzy Caplan pops up as the token woman, a part she fills with unexpected good humor.
Their mission here is to use hard-to-predict trickery against a tech guru during his big product launch. It’s a good demonstration of their abilities; Eisenberg is especially jazzy as he walks through the backstage maze, ripping off disguise after disguise. And it builds to a payoff that treats the evildoer like Wile E. Coyote, going over the cliff, looking down and realizing there’s nothing holding him up. It’s done quickly and cleverly, but it’s only the first step through a constantly thickening plot toward the surprising end-game climax.
With long episodes in Macau and London, it builds up a plot that rises up like a house of cards before being knocked over to reveal what we should have expected early. Director Jon M. Chu (“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”), working with his own brand of stagecraft, provides visual buzz and intense action.