Remember when Paul Daniels was on TV, sawing his wife in half (matron) and generally making magic seem like the least cool thing ever? Fast-forward to 2013 and this is not the world in which the internationally-renowned Four Horseman occupy. For them its all sell-out tours, car chases and magician groupies, and that’s before you take into account being fugitives on the run from the FBI for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.
It’s all very exciting, and it has to be, because frankly magic in the movies doesn’t quite have the same appeal as in reality. After all, watching Isla Fisher fly around an auditorium in a bubble is all well and good, but it doesn’t provide that “How are they doing that?!” moment that you get from actual illusionists.
Of course that doesn’t mean a magician-based movie can’t be a hit (The Prestige anyone?) – it just means the narrative and the characters have to deliver – and by Jove, Now You See Me gives it one hell of a go.
The Four Horseman comprise street magician J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), ‘mentalist’ Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and all-round cheeky chappy Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), all of whom have been brought together by a mystery figure who’s motives are unknown.
From there the Four Horseman take to the road with the show planned meticulously by their inconspicuous boss, with the first of which involving an apparent bank robbery. Why they would place themselves at the centre of an FBI investigation (headed up by Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Rhodes) all on the say-so of someone they haven’t met or know the identity of is one of many questions that you will be asking during Now You See Me, but fortunately Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is on hand to provide the answers to many of them.
Bradley is a magician-debunker; explaining how they pull off their tricks armed with nothing more than a glamorous assistant and a couple of cameras. He’s essentially a professional party-pooper, but he comes in particularly useful for the FBI who require his services for understanding how exactly the Four Horseman might be pulling it all off.
It’s rather convenient really, because if he hadn’t been about we’d have been left needing the narrative to explain the various twists and turns, which to be honest would have been bloody complicated.
In the end that’s pretty much how it goes for the entirety of Now You See Me. In one moment it sets up an intriguing premise, and in the next gets Morgan Freeman to explain how its actually all very simple, and it’s a level of exposition that is actually pretty patronising and distracting.
It’s a shame because there are some interesting ideas in there – some of which are even socio-economic of all things – and you can see the potential for a really twisting, turning and intriguing film, but it never gets there and ends up wavering dangerously close to dull.
During his police interview Atlas explains that the first rule of magic is to always be the smartest guy in the room. Unfortunately for Now You See Me it isn’t anywhere near as smart as it thinks it is.