Now You See Me

Posted by on Jul 13, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

This, the second film about stage illusionists to come out in 2013, is much easier and more enjoyable to watch than The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – although, from a magician’s point of view, not as important. As I said in my review of it (see Films about Magicians), Burt Wonderstone provides a useful commentary on the state of the magical art and makes points I was glad to see made in the public arena. The same cannot be said of Now You See Me, though during this heist caper I was able to relax in a way I couldn’t in front of the earlier film, since I was always braced for the next wave of discomfort.

Both movies portray magicians in a less than flattering light but the tone of Now You See Me is much more even and these illusionists come across as more realistic. Burt Wonderstone himself represents a common stereotype – that of the conceited, vacuous cheese – but he and his friend Anton do at least undergo some character development, which is not really true of the Four Horsemen. The revelation at the end of Now You See Me is perhaps intended to redress the balance of the unfavourable depictions of the illusionists and I suppose it succeeds.

For me, the flaw in this new film is that it lacks a hero with whom we can identify as the story unfolds. We’re invested in two opposing parties, the magicians and the police, and I sometimes found it difficult to know which side I was on. I can see why it had to be like this but it detracted from my viewing pleasure.

However, unlike Burt Wonderstone, Now You See Me is not about the magicians as people; it’s about the adventure of pulling off the sort of amazing feats that can only be carried out by top illusionists and directing them to a purpose beyond entertainment. OK, it was filmified and the magic conveyed nothing like the excitement it would have if we’d seen it live, but this wasn’t a televised magic show, it was a tale of what can be accomplished by four highly skilled illusionists. The plot may be somewhat fantastical but I didn’t think it was overcomplicated, as some reviewers have suggested. While it wasn’t always clear exactly what was going on right now, I always understood what had just happened and, as time went by, events and conversations fell into place. This is how I often feel when I’m watching magic being performed and it gave the film a nice additional layer for me.

Now You See Me is a fast-moving (mild) thriller and, if it does little to improve the image of the arrogant, nerdy illusionist or the brash, sneering mentalist, it at least raises the possibility that the strongest magicians use their powers for good.