Do you believe in magic? The wizardry in 2013’s Now You See Me was the kind that typically comes free with a Vegas hotel voucher and the unlimited seafood buffet—a slick, silly flimflam, all hat and no rabbit. But the movie also made a lot of money, and so we have a sequel: bigger and louder and—why not?—even more overstuffed with tinsel and tricks than the first one.
Improbably, Now You See Me 2 is also better: aware enough of its abracadabra absurdity that it can actually have some fun with all the nonsense. (If not the title; zero points for creativity, marketing Houdinis.) Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco return as three of the Four Horsemen, an itinerant band of magicians commanded by a mysterious, unseen overlord and united by a common cause. They may be rebels and scamps, but they use their powers for good: spell-casting Robin Hoods who steal from the rich and shady so that the poor—or at least the 99 percent-ish—can reap the rewards of their high-tech swindles. Mark Ruffalo is also back as FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, a secret supporter of the dark arts whose Keyser Söze reveal provided one of the first film’s most unintentionally hilarious moments, and Morgan Freeman reprises his role as Thaddeus Bradley, resident debunker of false magic–turned–Horsemen antagonist.
Missing is original Fourth Horsewoman Isla Fisher, who spent most of the last movie gamely filling out a sexy-girl-shaped space in the script and looking good in pencil skirts. She’s been replaced by Lizzy Caplan, and it’s one of the sequel’s biggest improvements. Caplan, too, has to wear a whole lot of not much, but she’s also a worthy, mouthy foil for her male counterparts. (At one point, when Ruffalo gives the crew a rushed lesson in the art of high-speed motorcyle racing, she demands to know why he’s aiming his instructions specifically at her; it turns out Harrelson’s character is the one who can’t make it 10 feet on two wheels.)
The requisite billionaire baddie here is played by Daniel Radcliffe, having a blast in his white suits and velvet loafers, and the story catalyst is some very 2016-y fandango about data theft and a universal computer chip. Details are vague, and the dialogue is beyond clunky. Characters say things like “Seeing is believing” and “I’ll make you suffer” with straight faces and mean it. Ruffalo is also badly miscast as a mastermind; most of the time he just looks exhausted and confused, like a dad who can’t remember where he parked at a big-box store. But Jon M. Chu (several Step Up movies) has taken over directing duties from Louis Leterrier, and he has a lighter, goofier touch. He seems to get that the silliness is baked in. Pay no attention to the plot behind the curtain, Now You See Me 2 says, because it barely registers and hardly matters. Just go with it and watch two hours—poof!—disappear. B