Now You See Me sees Las Vegas magicians use their magic trickery to rob banks as part of their show, and the FBI is left thinking “how dey do dat?” Nice set-up for a heist movie there.
The set-up managed to attract quite a decent cast too, from respected legends (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine), through a younger respected crowd (Jesse Eisenberg, Mélanie Laurent) and backed up by an array of dependable performers (Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco). So how does the set-up fare? Now You See Me opens with an extended pre-credits sequence to introduce our magicians. Possibly extended a bit too long but they’re interesting little character scenes that establish both the sense of magic and the particular idiosyncrasies of the group. But there’s a bit of misdirection going on. After our characters are introduced, and we see them work their magic, the movie shifts to not being about them. It is instead about Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo), the FBI agent tasked with figuring out how The Four Horsemen (as the magical group are collectively known) managed to magically rob a bank. The core team of magicians are actually very minor characters. Harrelson sticks out, particularly while sparring with Isla Fisher. But Jesse Eisenberg struggles to make his stammering style fit around the supremely confident magician he portrays. Dave Franco is pretty much the group’s mascot: they could have cast a dog, for all the work he does. This group still looks interesting though. The problem is we don’t see enough of them. A film with these guys at the focus probably would have worked better. Freeman’s magic debunker is fairly interesting too, but only because he gets to reveal the mechanics of how some stunts were achieved. But he’s constantly dancing around the subject of quite how much he knows. Apparently so people will buy his DVDs where he thoroughly debunks the horsemen, it can get irritating. With all these interesting characters running around, we’re left with a remarkably uninteresting main character to follow. Agent Rhodes is filler, reacting to the story as it unfolds around him, a prop used to tell the story as opposed to someone we can really connect with. This isn’t Mark Ruffalo’s fault however, if anything he’s the only reason the character has any life. One thing he can’t seem to sell however, is the relationship he develops with Mélanie Laurent’s Interpol agent. It works as a professional relationship, but a personal relationship is probably the biggest misstep of the film. The whole affair is very sleek with swooping camera movements and intricate lightshows, all aiding the spectacle and bedazzlement of the magical theme. There’s also a nice growth of question and answer, you’re not left stuck on one question too long and bigger questions keep arising. The questioning nature of the film can get in its own way sometimes. There are moments which should feel like big reveals, but because of the aura of scepticism, we never accept the premise in the first place. So these reveals aren’t showing us we were wrong, but simply that we were right to not trust the veracity of a pivotal development. Not that it’s predictable, just some of the details are more obvious than they should be. Unfortunately some of the less obvious details are overlooked because of the occasional stupidness of the truth. The film’s final reveal technically works, and doesn’t bring much by way of plot holes. But it’s still really stupid, stripping the film of nearly all of its conflict. The final conspiracy is simultaneously too epic to take seriously, and delivered through too small a medium.