Now You See Me

Now I've seen Now You See Me I can recommend whether you should see it too

Now I’ve seen Now You See Me I can recommend whether you should see it too

Magic hasn’t had the greatest PR over the years, with magicians viewed in some circles as just tricksters and frauds. They are, after all, people who are actively trying to deceive an audience and so, in some ways, not to be trusted. It makes a certain amount of sense, then, that Hollywood attempt a magician-based heist movie. Who better to pull off a seemingly impossible bank robbery?

There are a couple of problems I have with this. Firstly is the type of magic on view. I should probably say ‘illusion‘, really, because the team at the centre of this movie, lead by Jesse Eisenberg, are Las Vegas-style illusionists, for whom nothing is too big to make disappear. I’m not keen on this kind of magic. It’s big and brash, it’s about showmanship. I prefer the more intimate kind of magic, the kind of thing where you’re not actively being tricked but instead are just marveling at the skill of the magician involved. See this incredible example by Ricky Jay. With this in mind, person I was predisposed to not be that impressed by Now You See Me.

But perhaps magic isn’t the lens through which this film should be viewed, but more from the heist angle. The reason why Ocean’s 11 works as a film is because first of all it adequately sets up the motivation of all involved. We know who George Clooney wants to hit, we know why and we are brought onto his side. Then we’re given a sense of the complexity and scale of the plan, a few things go wrong but they improvise their way around them and eventually they succeed.

The main reason why Now You See Me ultimately isn’t as much fun as it should be is that we don’t know why the various heists involved are happening or whether we should want our leads to be successful. We’re supposed to like them because they are cocky and good at their tricks, but we’re given no reason to support them in their criminal course. Next, and this might be a minor SPOILER so feel free to look away now, at no point does anything really go wrong. There is a distinct lack of jeopardy. Even when things appear to have gone wrong, they haven’t actually, and ultimately that sequence doesn’t make sense when you look back on it.

Finally – and again, this may be a SPOILER – when you pull off a twist ending it should make the viewer look back on the film and say “Oh yes, of course”. It should make sense and be something that you could have seen coming (see The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, though I saw the latter coming a mile away). Here you get the feeling that the ending was done in order for there to be a twist, and not because it is integral to the story.

Ultimately, what you end up with is something flashy and empty. A bit like a Las Vegas magic show.

C
Length – 1hr 55mins – feels like 1hr 45mins

Oblivion

Tom Cruise: Visionary architect of nature

Tom Cruise: Visionary architect of nature

Oblivion is a Tom Cruise film. It’s a very Tom Cruise film. It features lots of close-ups of Tom Cruise’s face. Tom Cruise stands heroically looking at things on several occasions. The full nature of just how Tom Cruise-y Oblivion is can’t be revealed without giving away some plot twists, but trust me, it’s very Tom Cruise-y.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I quite like Tom Cruise. When he’s in the right kind of film he performs admirably. The Colour of Money, for example. The Firm. A Few Good Men. Mission: Impossible. In all of those Tom Cruise is very good, and they are very enjoyable films (to varying degrees, when it comes to the M:I movies). He’s even pretty good in the unfairly maligned “Tom Cruise almost defeats Nazi-ism” film Valkyrie.

And Oblivion is another film in which Cruise is actually pretty well cast – something he probably needed after being woefully miscast in Jack Reacher, a film which demanded a Clint-Eastwood-of-30-years-ago type performer. If anyone is less like Clint Eastwood than me, it might be Tom Cruise. Anyway, Oblivion. It’s got Tom Cruise in it and he’s quite good. So what’s the deal?

Years ago, Earth was attacked by some alien creatures (nicknamed scavengers, or ‘scavs’). Humans managed to fight them off but in doing so ruined the planet. We are now harvesting Earth’s few remaining resources while slowly moving the survivors to a new home on Saturn’s moon Titan. Tom Cruise is a technician assigned the duty of repairing the drones that protect the giant resource-harvesters from the scavs.

Production note: the drones are very clearly modelled on the Zeroids from Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks:

A Zeroid family at play in its natural habitat

A Zeroid family at play in its natural habitat


The Oblivion Drones, screen-captured for your pleasure.

The Oblivion Drones, screen-captured for your pleasure.

Anyway, when a pod crashes back on earth containing someone from Tom Cruise’s past, the revelations keep on coming. I can’t really say more than that without unravelling the story for you. Let’s just say that all is not as it seems (Cruise’s world is rocked when he discovers all his co-stars are on strings).

Tom Cruise's love interest in Oblivion

Tom Cruise’s love interest in Oblivion

So, the film blends a lot of fairly established sci-fi tropes and scenarios to create a pretty interesting scenario. If you’re well versed in sci-fi then nothing that unfolds will come as a surprise, but there’s nothing incompetent on view either. It doesn’t over-do the special effects – they all service the plot rather than being there for the sake of it – and it unfolds in a pretty organic manner. There’s a decent chase scene that thrills but doesn’t overstay its welcome. It is all pretty satisfactory.

The thing that stops it from joining the upper echelon of sci-fi films of recent years is the pacing. It’s just over 2 hours long – not a ridiculous length but still a good 20+ minutes shy of the ideal length – and I think it could regain much of that time, and thus give the plot some much needed urgency, merely by cutting out the 5 second gaps that seem to come between almost every line of dialogue. The film should be some schlocky sci-fi fun but it takes itself just that little bit too seriously, like it has something serious to say about the human condition. It’s ponderous.

B-

An aside: the story is supposed to start in 2017. Ignore reference to this, it makes no sense. We won’t have deep-sleep stasis pods in 4 years time. Imagine every reference to 2017 is actually a reference to 2070.