Okay, here’s the thing…
If you turn your brain off while watching Now You See Me, you may really enjoy it. It has a fun story, flamboyant characters, some nice visuals, decent action scenes, and a bit of romance as well. However, after the movie is over, eventually your brain will turn back on and the more you think about it, the less the film will hold up under scrutiny. Which, I guess, is part and parcel for a film about magic considering that magic works best when you are deceiving the audience. Just like this movie.
Before I get into that though, a bit about the characters. Jesse Eisenberg plays an egocentric magician. Isla Fisher plays an egocentric magician. Woody Harrelson plays an egocentric mentalist. James Franco’s brother plays an egocentric magician. Morgan Freeman plays an egocentric debunker of magicians. Michael Caine plays an egocentric financier of magicians. Mark Ruffalo plays FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes and Mélanie Laurent plays Interpol Agent Alma Dray. These are all the main characters. None of them are really “supporting actors” unless you consider the whole cast nothing but supporting actors. The bottom line is none of them stand out as the sole protagonist of the story. In fact, if there was one, it would probably be Mélanie Laurent’s character as she is the only person in this story who is even somewhat likable. Every single one of the Four Horsemen (the four previously mentioned egocentric magicians) is a jerk and not likable in any way. Michael Caine’s character isn’t particularly likable. Morgan Freeman’s character is a giant smart-ass. Even Mark Ruffalo’s character, who we are supposed to be somewhat sympathetic towards, is pretty selfish, kind of mean, and yells a lot for no apparent reason. I kept expecting him to turn into The Hulk at some point.
For me, I can’t be interested in a movie if there is no clear protagonist, especially one that’s not likable. It’s the reason I can’t watch Wes Anderson movies. For some reason his films are full of completely unlikable characters, none of whom I want to or can root for. Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman play a couple of completely unlikable jerks fighting over a woman in Rushmore. Normally I would root for the woman in the film to just spurn both these guys and tell them to leave her alone, but no, she’s not particularly likable either. And let’s not forget The Royal Tenenbaums which contains not a single entity that could be considered a decent human being. I couldn’t make it a half-hour into that picture before turning it off in disgust. So clearly if there’s no clear-cut protagonist, it’s difficult for a film to hold my interest. The only reason this one did was mostly because it focused on the FBI and Interpol agents and not the smug magicians and the rest of their ilk. In fact, I was rooting for the police to catch those annoying twerps.
To explain why this film lies to the audience would require me to spoil the movie. And I don’t want to do that. Suffice it to say, when the mystery of the so-called “fifth horseman” is revealed, some people sitting near me in the theater couldn’t believe it. And I couldn’t either. The main reason is because at times the movie showed this character acting just like the character they were portraying and not as the character they were even when said character wasn’t being observed by any other character in the film. Ah, but you see, WE were watching. The audience. And we can’t have a character living a double life act suspiciously or our clever twist at the end will be revealed. So even when this person isn’t in view of the other characters, they were still acting like they were being observed. Magicians would call this misdirection, which is apropos for a film about magic. I suppose the screenwriters thought they were being clever writing a script that is essentially one huge magic trick. Another problem is a lot of the magic they showed was film illusion. One time Isla Fisher’s character throws out a scarf that starts swirling around and getting bigger and bigger until it reveals a magical apparatus. That can’t happen in real life. They needed to use a visual effect to make it look like that. There were these cards that once brought together became translucent and iridescent and even began to glow. Hogwash. Or should I say ‘Hogwarts’, because that is some Harry Potter level sorcery going on right there. So the least they could’ve done is be honest with the audience. But they weren’t and that’s a problem for me.
Overall, I would say the film is entertaining. It tells an extravagant story and is a lot of fun to watch. The problem is just that the film as a whole isn’t as good as a few of its parts. If they had just been a bit more honest about certain character’s motivations, I think it would have worked better. So I can only really give the film a marginal recommendation. It’s worth seeing for the spectacle, just not the story.
Now You Don’t