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