It’s always fun when the tagline for a movie is an unintentional metaphor for the actual film. It doesn’t hurt that it makes for easy subtitles. In any case, Now You See Me marks the sixth movie from my Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2013 to come out. Of the first five, two have been extremely satisfying (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Iron Man 3), one has been pretty good (Oblivion) and two have been flat-out terrible (After Earth, A Good Day to Die Hard). It might seems strange that Now You See Me was even on that list in the first place, but I stand by my decision at the time. Sporting an absolutely amazing ensmble cast and heralded by a very effective marketing campaign, the magician/heist hybrid could have been a breath of originality in a sequel-laiden summer season along the lines of Inception or Looper. Sadly, I can’t say that it compares to either of those films on any meaningful level. Now You See Me features an intriguing premise and a set of very entertaining performances from The Four Horsemen themselves, but an over-reliance on hollow twists and turns keep it from true greatness.
The Plot: 5/10
An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.
There’s only a certain amount of twists a movie can have before it starts tying itself into a knot. This is exactly the issue that Now You See Me runs into in its third act. The first hour or so of the movie is actually pretty damn fun, mostly because of the intrigue created by not knowing how the elaborate tricks being staged are actually accomplished. Once these questions start being answered though, all of that mystery goes out the window and the movie loses a lot of its power. I’m not saying that the twists here are predictable; on the contrary there were a few that took me completely off guard as I was expecting a completely different revelation. That being said, it takes more than the element of surprise to make a twist effective, and that’s really all Now You See Me has up its sleeve.
The Writing: 7/10
While the story element of the writing stretches itself too thin by the end of the movie, it’s the characters that make the movie fun to watch. The Four Horsemen are all extremely fun to watch, especially when they are squaring off against any one of the crowd of people on their tails. The interrogation room scenes with Mark Ruffalo are probably my favorite of the entire film. The only issue is that those scenes work because of how well the Horsemen play off of Ruffalo, and once the two are separated a lot of that sparring chemistry dies out.
Other than the four leads, though, the writing is pretty unspectacular. There’s a fairly uninteresting relationship sub-plot between Ruffalo and Laurent, but other than that there really isn’t much character development to speak of. The movie itself is almost entirely focused on the story rather than the characters, so everyone spends most of their time running after or away from someone else rather than exhibiting any interesting or individual qualities. It’s hard not to draw comparisons here between this movie and Inception as the latter film had the same sort of emphasis on story and mechanics over character development, but the reason one works and the other doesn’t that the world Inception created was far more interesting and fleshed-out than the one Now You See Me creates.
The Acting: 6/10
Once again, if the majority of the movie had revolved around the Four Horsemen themselves I would have enjoyed the entire experience a lot more than I actually did. I really liked the chemistry that Harrelson, Eisenberg, Fisher and Franco have together, and after this and Zombieland I’ve decided that Harrelson and Eisenberg need to be best friends in real life for the benefit of everyone around them. That would be a reality show I would actually watch; make it happen, MTV.
The problem is that those four are only on camera for about a third of the movie, and nobody in the other two thirds is even close to as fun to watch. I’ll be honest, Mark Ruffalo has actually been pretty hit or miss for me in everything I’ve seen him in. He does great with dry wit and sarcasm, but he just doesn’t work as the sort of hard-ass that he’s playing here. Laurent is a bit more playful and more interesting, but still not enough to justify taking screen time away from the Four Horsemen. Furthermore, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are woefully miscast and underused. Caine is way too likable to be placed in an arrogant villain role, and Freeman is far too trustworthy-seeming to play a greedy magic-debunker.
The Magic: 7/10
Magic might not be the coolest thing on the planet in real life, but it sure does make for a hell of a subject for movies. When done correctly, the combination of mystery and showmanship works just as well on a movie’s audience as it does for the audience on screen. Special effects might detract from that mystery from time to time, but as long as we assume that the events of the movie are taking place in a world similar to ours we still hunger for the answer to the question “How did they do that?” When the movie is asking that question, it works great. When it tries to answer it… not so much. The explanations for a lot of the tricks here get so elaborate that it’s hard to take them seriously, even with the implied funding of a secret society of magicians known as “The Eye”. Sometimes it really is better not to look too closely.
On a non-magical note, I’d like to mention that there’s one particular fight scene between Franco and Ruffalo that is just flat out awesome. If only there had been more of that and less explanation through flashback…
The Verdict: 6.5/10 – Perfectly Adequate
+ The Four Horsemen are extremely fun to watch
+ The first half of the movie does a great job of building a sense of mystery…
– …only for the second half to resort to overly-complicated, twist filled explanations of it all
– Ruffalo, Freeman and Caine are all pretty badly miscast
Rotten Tomatoes: 44 %
Fast Film Reviews: 3.5/5
The Code is Zeek: 3/5
The Filmster: 3/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 5.5/10
Keith and the Movies: 2.5/5
Average: 6.7/10 – Perfectly Adequate