There's a bit John Oliver had this year (it's like 16 minutes in) about how competing against doping athletes must feel like buying a ticket to this movie. "What are we doing here? What are any of us doing here? What's the point?"
The first Now You See Me movie was, for a chunk of its run time, a fun romp, with its thrill cut short by just a dickens of a bad ending, its twisting who-done-it plot leading only to airless emptiness, deflating everything fun about the movie that had come before. In most movies, I'm much more worried about the journey than the destination, but a good heist needs a solid prestige at the end, and this one made the mistake of laying down its cards to reveal it was bluffing the whole way along. I won't ruin it for you, but-
Okay, yes, I will. That movie is garbage. You're better off.
No, wait. Let me clarify. If you plan on watching either Now You See Me or Now You See Me 2: Inexplicably Not Titled “Now You Don't” sometime in the future, keep reading. If you plan on never watching either movie, keep reading. But, if you plan on watching one of these movies in the future but only for the joy of hating them, STOP. I can save you from a bad movie-watching experience, but I'll ruin a good hate-watch.
The Plot of Now You See Me
Now, to be clear, I am writing this on an airplane, FOUR years after I watched the first movie for the first and only time, with no ability to summon up details from Google. But the nonsense of this movie is so memorable, I don't even need to yadda-yadda any of it. I remember it all. It has not left me.
In Now You See Me, the plot follows four working magicians (in the sleight-of-hand, not Harry Potter, sense), each with a different specialty - Jesse Eisenberg does card tricks, Woody Harrelson hypnotizes people, Isla Fisher escapes from stuff, and Dave Franco does petty-theft lifts. They are recruited by a unseen figure in a hoodie who secretly leaves each of them a card marked with a symbol representing The Eye, a mysterious group representing the greatest magicians, who may or may not use real magic, depending on who or what you believe. They are led to an abandoned apartment, where they are given detailed schematic instructions (they are all apparently brilliant 3-D modelers or something) from their unknown guide, who is supposedly The Eye itself.
They begin running the elaborate heist they are given, the believability of which relies entirely on whether you think a hypnotist is capable of grabbing a random passing stranger in France by the neck, whispering firm instruction in their ear in English that convinces them to travel to Vegas and see a magic show, and then later triggering them to be a walking behavioral zombie with a snap of their fingers (this part is supposed to be science, not magic).
This leads to a globe-crossing adventure where the Four Horsemen (as they are now known) pull off heist after heist, funded by a sneering Michael Caine and chased closely by professional illusion-ruiner Morgan Freeman, pragmatic FBI agent Mark Ruffalo (who does not believe in real magic because of Bad Experiences from his childhood), and unnecessary French agent Mélanie Laurent, who finds herself wavering towards belief as she follows the case, and also gradually falls in love with Mark Ruffalo, because Why Not. The final heist culminates with the Horsemen in Vegas, leaping from a rooftop and turning into a flutter of CGI fake cash floating down on their fans below (it is a trick so impossible it can only be real magic, but is passed off as maybe an impressive illusion that is never explained, because the movie is never totally comfortable committing one way or another).
Having completed the heist, it turns out that the whole thing was just an elaborate revenge plan by Ruffalo, whose father was a famous magician known for his Houdini-like escapes. He died after being goaded into a daring underwater breakout by Freeman from a safe built by Caine's company, whose shoddy workmanship caused the safe's hinges to buckle under the water pressure, drowning young Ruffalo's father.
In order to pay them back, Ruffalo studied for the rest of his life to become part of The Eye, a real magician, with real magic (possibly), and also to become an FBI agent who would happen to be stationed in Vegas when the first Horseman heist happened, so that he could be the one pursuing the case for reasons that are not remotely clear (he does not help the Horsemen in any way, the Horsemen are unaware that he is actually part of The Eye, and he often causes the Horsemen to come extremely close to being caught by leading the FBI right to them, up to and including attempting to shoot a gun at them). At the end, he has taken all of Caine's money and also somehow makes Freeman responsible for the crime by planting the money in his car (Freeman is immediately imprisoned without trial, because, again, Why Not). Ruffalo and Freeman have a showdown in Freeman's jail cell, where Ruffalo reveals everything about his stupid plot and then is suddenly standing outside of the jail cell, because magic, or maybe not magic, depending on what you believe.
This is a movie to which they made a sequel. Someone said, “there's more story here!”* And so, somehow there is.
*Okay, someone said “there's more money here!” But someone after that had to actually say “sure, there's more story here, lemme try and figure something out!” and I feel for that person.
This movie is somehow infinitely dumber. The original cast returns, with trying-as-hard-as-she-can Lizzy Caplan subbing in for a pregnant Isla Fisher, and Daniel Radcliffe appearing as Michael Caine's son, a spoiled brat who wants to be a magician like The Horseman but –Whoa! He's terrible at magic! Even though he's the actor who played Harry Potter! What fun we're having.
Because the only way to talk about this movie is to discuss its byzantine and pointless plot, let's do that.*
*Again, if you plan on ever hate-watching this, or making some sort of drinking game out of its plot, please stop here. You will ruin the best worst time ever.
The Plot of Now You See Me 2
It all starts with a standard “looks like we turned the tables on you!” heist-gone-wrong, where a still-imprisoned Morgan Freeman somehow spoils their latest plot, which was to reveal that a major company, who I will refer to henceforth as Not Google, is secretly going to be stealing all of your privacy and data on their new whatever-it-is.
The Horsemen make their escape just in time after the first heist fails, except that someone has replaced their enclosed escape slide off the roof with a different enclosed escape slide off the roof, which has a series of flashing lights that causes them to become hypnotized and fall asleep for such a long period of time that the their captor is able to ship them to across the ocean so that they wake up in the back of a Chinese restaurant in China (this detail is not revealed until the end, but it is much too stupid a detail to double back and explain later).
Trapped, The Horsemen are forced to do another heist to gain their freedom, capturing the secret chip that Not Google has locked away in their incredibly protected business fortress in China, and return the chip to their mysterious captor, who of course turns out to be Michael Caine.*
*I know that Caine is a man who has famously never turned down a paycheck in his life, but when he appeared all I could think was “isn't anyone too busy to do this stupid movie?”
The movie turns when Caine and Radcliffe, laughing maniacally, lower Ruffalo into the ocean bay in the same type of safe that his father died in (see, aren't you glad I summarized the first terrible movie? Now you know what's going on just as well as everyone watching the movie does, which is to say: not all that well) In comic book-villain fashion, they immediately exit, so that when Ruffalo is able to escape the safe in the way his father never could and crawls gasping onto the shore, they have already jetted off on their boat, toasting each other with champagne.
This leads to One Final Heist, where The Horsemen lead the villains on a merry chase around London until they are “captured,” pulled aboard a private jet, then thrown out of it in midair when they refuse to hand over the data-stealing chip Not Google made (halfway through, they surrender and do hand over the data-stealing chip, but are thrown out of the airplane anyway, because villainy). But it turns out it was all a hoax, helped set in motion when Harrelson and Franco hypnotized Harrelson's evil twin brother!* The plane they climbed into was just a fake plane, and the plane never took off at all – it was all wind and water effects! They're actually floating on a barge in the middle of the Thames, broadcasting everything to the whole world! Everyone is fine, the police come and arrest the bad guys, and the Horsemen disappear into the night to continue their Robin Hood-like existence somewhere else.
*Yes, sorry I didn't get to this before: Woody Harrelson puts on a ridiculous wig and plays his own evil twin brother in this movie.
The movie ends with the heroes finally meeting the members of The Eye, which included both Freeman and Ruffalo's father (he's not there, he really is dead, but there are some pictures up), who were partners all along, creating an elaborate ruse for publicity's sake! Ruffalo's father's death was just an unfortunate accident that Freeman never told Ruffalo about because Reasons. And on that uplifting note, everything draws to a close, and the Horseman go behind a Secret Curtain, signaling their entrance into The Eye.
I thought I didn't like this movie before, but writing all this down, wow, I really hated this movie. But I also really enjoyed hating this movie.
And I hope someday you enjoy hating a movie just as much as I enjoyed hating this one.