Review of Now You See Me, Directed by Louis Leterrier
Now You See Me follows the story of the Four Horsemen (a brand new quartet of illusionists) as they stage three consecutive shows. In their first show in Las Vegas, they steal money from a bank in Paris and shower the crowds with the Euros. FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) give chase with the on-and-off help of Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a man who has made a career of unveiling the mechanics of magic tricks.
Now You See Me ultimately fails to deliver the full potential of the material. The magic stunts were delightful. The comedic moments are well-timed and spot-on. The way things fell into place at just the right moment kept the momentum pulsing forward. But the final “a-ha!” moment is a huge letdown. People are already mentally making notes of potential candidates for the Fifth Horseman, the theoretical mastermind Agent Rhodes is scouring the evidence for. The least likely person turns out to be the “Fifth Horseman,” but it’s not a fun surprise since this person is nixed from the list of suspects for the very fact that it would be too predictable and banal.
On top of this, early on in the film, the audience is prepared for a massive twist in the end. Thaddeus Bradley warns the agents that the first and second acts are merely a set-up for the grand finale. Yet this building anticipation is deflated when the final act is nothing spectacular or sui generis from what we’ve already seen. (In fact, the final act is arguably of a lower caliber than the second act.)
The theme of magic-versus-tricks, as well as that of an ancient order stretching back to Egyptian times, smacks of Sherlock Holmes’s (2009) Freemasonic “Order” and the illusion of sorcery. In Now You See Me, the ancient order called “the Eye of Horus” feels awkwardly tacked onto the plot since it’s never fully explained other than the fact that they safeguard true magic. And yet, guardianship is not tied to their heists in any significant way other than providing a “test” of some sort. As if this incomplete subplot were not enough, we are treated to a last-minute romance that is nothing but a hack job.
The originality of Now You See Me is supposed to be the Four Horsemen’s use of their magic for bank heists. This is Ocean’s trilogy with magic! Who wouldn’t like that? But the bank heists are done so easily that it lacks the build-up that comes with watching master thieves use their tradecraft to sketch out plans and flawlessly execute them. The bank heists are accomplished in quick succession, meaning that there is no telos. When the true motive is finally unveiled, it seems like a disproportionate amount of effort.
The dazzling effects, great soundtrack, and unveiling of magic tricks (who doesn’t enjoy learning how magic tricks are done?) cannot resuscitate this film from its meandering subplots and flop of a climax.