Today, Jon M. Chu 's In the Heights hit theaters. Five years ago, his Now You See Me 2 continued a franchise's endearingly earnest movie magic. Here's justbrizigs with an appreciation of the magician/criminal series:
The Now You See Me franchise is all about treating its heist-pulling magicians as very, very cool people. And it's refreshing for a blockbuster to be so endearingly earnest.
Now You See Me 2, was released in theaters. It has received light taunting over the years following its release for the glaringly obvious missed opportunity of naming the filmNow You Don’tto finish off the classic phrase from which the titles of the films derive. This clever wordplay was apparently initially intended by Soloman, but he
that the idea was scrapped by marketing. The final decision fits like a perfect puzzle piece into the whole vibe of the ridiculous series, to the point where calling the sequelNow You Don’twould have robbed the films of their dumb, timeless charm (albeit, save for a transphobic joke in the first film). While operating on the same frequency as the long-running
Fast and Furiousfranchise and the ultimately discarded sincerity of Zack Snyder’s vision forJustice League, theNow You See Mefilms not only embrace a similar earnestness that’s all-too infrequent in goofy, modern blockbusters, but apply it to a concept as deranged as magician anarchists. Like Snyder and his beloved superheroes, there is a sweetness to the concept of making audiences take something ridiculous—like magic— headtopics.com
very seriously.IP franchise films making in-jokes and ironic references have an inclination to distance themselves from their own irrationality by relating to the audience they’re trying to pander to—to make us feel better for watching these stupid movies and, at the same time, distract us as they swallow up the rest of the media world. But in the
Now You See Meuniverse, there is no “wink wink, nudge nudge” metatextual cognizance to let the audience know that the film or its talented cast is in on a joke filled top to bottom with nonsensical plot developments and gaping holes in logic. The idea that magicians can use their entertaining skills suited for children’s birthday parties to thwart cops and pull off heists is depicted as on par with Danny Ocean’s panache. Because of this, the films embody a sort of charm that’s been mostly lost to big mainstream films since the 2000s. The irony-poisoning of blockbuster cinema is a disease, attempting to mask inherent corporate malignancy with an audience-winking façade.
But the blockbuster product known as theNow You See Memovies don’t want to trick you—well, they do, but only in the form of illusions. Perhaps partly due to the ridiculous and unmerchandisable premise, theNow You See Meworld is as yet contained to the silver screen. The films follow an underground organization known as The Eye and its disciples, the Four Horsemen. The Eye is an ancient, mythical (fictional) secret society of magicians dating back to ancient Egypt who, legend has it, have access to real magic. The Eye use their supernatural abilities to take down the wealthy in service of the common folk. And so, in the first film (directed by Louis Leterrier), The Four Horsemen—Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco)—are put together by an as-yet-unknown leader in service of The Eye, engaging in a series of public shows and “tricks” that dupe corrupt elites. Their criminal exploits are pursued by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) and ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman)—the latter of whom uses his sleight-of-hand know-how to explain magicians’ tricks, hoping to expose the Horsemen as the frauds he believes them to be.
While the first film sees the Horsemen strictly engaged in various feats of illegal do-goodery, the sequel shifts their deeds towards hacktivist anarchy territory (also, due to her pregnancy, Fisher was replaced by Lizzy Caplan as the girl Horseman who is, this time, constantly workshopping terrible stand-up bits). The second film leans farther into absurdity while still maintaining the same self-serious tone as the first installment, even with the added goofball bonus of Woody Harrelson playing his own twin brother with fake teeth and a spray tan. Beyond that, we’re meant to take seriously the idea that there’s a secret, all-powerful organization of magicians that has the ability to take down the corporate world at large. There’s something simplistically delightful about this world, where hypnotism not only actually works on everyone but can be used as practical mind control; where a deck of cards can be utilized as weaponry; where magicians can free themselves from any standard set of police-grade handcuffs; and where Eisenberg is basically playing magician Mark Zuckerberg. headtopics.com
Yes, the best thing about theNow You See Mefranchise is not that magicians are made to be ludicrously cool, but that magicians are effectivelyomnipotent. They aren’t just a few steps ahead of everyone, like what is constantly being espoused by their various adversaries. The Horsemen can get out of any situation, outwit any enemy, use any magic trick to fit the needs of whatever sticky, real-world problem they’re in. If this were possible, then wouldn’t criminals everywhere surely become magicians to commit acts of malfeasance with ease? These films halfheartedly try to anchor themselves with a theme which is appropriate both in real life and to the idea of magicians/illusions themselves: That magic tricks are only effective because we allow ourselves to be deceived. Thus “not everything is as it seems” and, if you look closely, there’s always an answer that makes logical sense. The offshoot of this, when applied to these films, is that nothing ever makes logical sense, and both everything and everyone are never as they seem in the universe of
Now You See Me. Everyone in these films is tricking everyone, to the point where nothing really holds up if you look at things with even a modicum of scrutiny.If you can ignore the gaping plot holes—such as why Agent Rhodes (secretly the leader of the Four Horsemen) continues to go to such great lengths to pretend like he’s searching for the Horsemen, to the point where he tells Agent Dray to shoot Danny Atlas in the first film, and seemingly goes out of his way to keep the investigation going in the second film—the
Now You See Memovies are just plain old fun.There’s a particularly impressive card trick sequence in the second film, filmed in one continuous shot and utilizing the camera in such a way that the audience is made to feel as if they are the card being hidden and passed between the Four Horsemen. Sequel director Jon M. Chu—
to be returning for the series’ third film, and currently celebrating the release ofIn the Heightsexplainedthat the scene required lipstick cameras, CG, Steadicam choreography, GoPros, “four different types of drones,” and even playing with perspective, “making things large so that bigger cameras could go through things that look like bigger shirts and jackets.” And the films aren’t all CGI movie magic either—the cast do take part in some practical magic tricks, with the films requiring an official headtopics.com
to help pull them off. Franco apparently really did master card-throwing…even if not quite to the extent of utilizing cards as true artillery.It is in such quaint yet inane ideas that theNow You See Mefilms flourish as oddities in the world of mainstream cinema—critically disregarded, but successful enough to warrant more than one sequel. The writers asked the pressing question “What if magicians were also hacktivist criminals?” and this is what we got; and audiences, miraculously, responded to it. Blockbuster movies like
Face/Offdon’t really exist anymore, so if the closest thing we can get to a goofy, original, studio film is watching Academy Award-nominated actors enact stylishly-executed, CGI magic acts to take down corporate elites while engaging in the kind of bantering dialogue that no human actually speaks, then I’m there.
The appeal of big budget “dumb fun” has waned over the years when so much of it is so overtly attached to growing monopolies that want to dull our senses with things that we recognize so we’ll want to spend our money on more of them;Now You See Medoesn’t want us to recognize anything but the artistic merits of a good card trick. On that note, perhaps if enough of us watch the
Now You See Mefilms, and we all believe in magic hard enough, we can manifest the Four Horsemen to come take down our own evil corporations that are destroying both the physical and media landscapes. If seeing is believing, then maybe magicians really can save the world.Read more: Paste Magazine »
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