It’s best to think of Now You See Me as a superhero movie, except instead of fighting with superhuman strength and speed, the heroes use their superhuman brains and wits.
They’re all magicians, and they’ve been recruited by a mysterious figure to join forces to gain, well. . .the film is never completely clear on that, but it has to do with achieving total clarity or somethin’. (So they’ve got that.)
I absolutely loved the opening of the film, as we meet each of the magicians: Cocky David Blaine-esque J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, doing a variation of his Mark Zuckerberg, only with emo hair); crafty mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson); Atlas’s assistant-turned-sexy-headliner Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher); and an Artful Dodger-style street magician named Jack Wilder (Dave Franco).
In those opening scenes, at least, their magic seems credible, grounded in some sort of semi-believable reality.
But once they join forces—nicknaming themselves The Four Horseman—their tricks become increasingly over-the-top and incredible. They immediately perform an astonishing trick where they “teleport” a man to France and have him rob his own bank. Then, they give the money to the audience. (A tiny nitpick: The audiences always seem remarkably sanguine and calm when money is falling from the rafters in this film. In real life it would be a clawing, scratching, every-man-for-himself free-for-all.) Now they’ve become folk heroes—kind of the Robin Hoods of illusion.
The Four Horsemen are bankrolled by a shady real estate mogul (Michael Caine) and watched closely by professional magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). (And can I say, for the record, that I completely approve of this new trend of Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine appearing in films together? Those two wily old pros make scene-stealing seem effortless.) Mark Ruffalo is the dogged FBI agent who is on their trail; and French actress Melanie Laurent is his untested new partner, from Interpol.
Unfortunately, as the film goes on, the battle of one-upsmanship between the magicians and the Feds becomes tiresome. If the heroes don’t seem real, or vulnerable in any sort of genuine way, the stakes are never truly raised. (Even Superman had his kryptonite.) We know The Four Horseman will be able to wiggle out of any trouble simply by performing some sort of preposterous magic trick.
Still, I enjoyed Now You See It for what it was—a snappy and superficially clever piece of slick entertainment. And seriously? Making a summer film about brains instead of brawn is a kind of magic trick unto itself.