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— Mike Myers, Austin Powers

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Are you watching closely? The Horsemen are up to the same tricks.

The Second Act

New characters, same tricks.
New characters, same tricks.

Now You See Me was a surprise hit back in 2013. But it also disappeared from the mind much like awakening from one of Merritt McKinney’s hypnotic trances. Key characters and plot points were totally forgotten.

With the original out of mind, it seemed as though this sequel was going to pull off a neat movie trick, along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean and the Elizabeth Swann trilogy — pulling an entire intricate series out of what was initially a stand-alone endeavor.

After revisiting the original, in this case the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The relationships go a little deeper and the tricks get a little bigger, but ultimately NYSM2 is little more than a mirror trick. After a while, it starts to look a lot like its predecessor.

EPACSE

This sequel begins with a flashback to 1984 and the tragic death of Lionel Shrike, the father of Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight) then it catches up to modern times and finds the Horsemen one year after the events of the first movie. They’ve been in hiding and awaiting news of their next gig from the Eye.

Somewhere along the way, the lovely Henley Reeves parted ways with J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, Zombieland) and the Horsemen. Enter Lula (Lizzy Caplan, Cloverfield), a gung-ho “self-decapitating” magician who seamlessly moves into the mix. She’s a quick study; it’s impressive how she holds her own and quickly works into the chemical mix of Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, James Franco and Ruffalo.

The new mission begins with an extravagant plan to out a tech company called Octa. They’re about to roll out a new smartphone with the intent to increase revenue by selling users’ private data on the black market. Gosh. How long would it take for that silly plan to be exposed, even without the Horsemen?

One thing leads to another and before you know it — POOF! — all of the other lead characters are back and the crossing/double-crossing/character-deepening activities begin. There’s Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, Batman Begins), still shorting his insurance customers. There’s Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, The Dark Knight) still skirting around the details of his relationship with Dylan’s father.

But there are also new characters. In addition to Lula, there’s Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself). Jay Chou (The Green Hornet) and Tsai Chin (Memoirs of a Geisha) add an element of intrigue (and humor) as the owners of a magic shop in Macau. Of course, that magic shop ties in intimately with past events. On the really weird side, Merritt’s evil twin brother is introduced (a creepy — awkward, even cheesy — double role for Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games series). Yeah. That one must’ve been pulled out of Scooby-Doo or something.

Yikes, Scoob!

Grounded

The story is essentially a more ambitious version of the original. There are a few more intricacies and the marquee magic tricks have grown in scope. Following the manner of NYSM, those tricks are then explained. For example, how do the Horsemen slide down a construction debris shoot at a building in New York City and step out to find themselves in Macau?

There’s a very down-to-earth explanation for that.

And perhaps David Copperfield himself is the one to thank for these bigger sleights of hand. He’s been brought on board as a co-producer.

As it stands, NYSM2 is very much a typical Hollywood sequel. It’s bigger, splashier and packing a certain amount of entertainment value. While it’s a safe, agreeable trip to the movies, it’s a bit of a letdown in light of the trajectory of the bigger franchises that have grown up to boast cross-movie character arcs and underlying themes.

Here, it’s less “now you see me” and much more a case of “what you see is what you get.”