There’s a reason I call this blog “Exploring the Magic of Movies”, and I suppose it has more to do with how I watch movies than the movies themselves, at least these days. In the early days of cinema, moving pictures truly looked like some kind of wizardry, and if you saw Martin Scorsese’s Hugo a couple of years ago, you might have noticed the bit where audience members watching one of the first movies got up out of their seats and ran away in terror at the shot of an oncoming train.
Now that movies have been around for well over a century, there seems to be little left to excite and entice the modern audience. Never-ending sequels, adaptations of well-worn stories, and “destruction porn” populate the cinematic landscape, often sucking the joy of a truly fantastical experience right out of the theaters.
But every so often, a movie gets it right. It takes a whole audience of people on the same ride I try to experience every time I watch a movie, leading the viewers along by the nose — even when it’s a pretty obvious ride — and they enjoy every minute. Now You See Me gets bonus points for casting a group of magicians as the protagonists, which automatically piques my personal interest.
I have to admit, I don’t always hear or read as much movie buzz as I used to, particularly compared to the days when I watched a lot of commercial television. It took a friend’s recommendation to point me in the direction of the trailer, but as soon as I saw it, I knew I couldn’t miss this movie.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I go to pretty good lengths to avoid spoilers, and I’ll strive to do the same here. But I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t at least mention one thing. There is — as often happens in trailers — one tiny scene which, had I remembered it before seeing the movie, would have revealed a pretty important piece of the plot. Not the entire plot, thankfully, but a pretty critical piece of information. Once the movie was over, I remembered having been shown that scene RIGHT IN THE TRAILER, which means that the misdirection in this film started long before I arrived at the theater.
So instead of wandering too far down the path to Spoilerville, let’s look at some of the other things that made me really, really enjoy this movie, and why you will, too.
First, there’s the plot. It holds interest throughout, while developing a number of almost-sub-plots instead of leading you directly from beginning to end. Just when you think you have one piece of the puzzle, you’re shown that what you think you know doesn’t actually fit at all, and what’s more, they give you something else entirely different to look at and think about. The characters get just enough development right away to be played basically as archetypes in order to better serve the story. I thought they used the mentalist really brilliantly as a way to propel just a bit of character development here and there, without bogging down the story. (Also, this is probably my very favorite role of Woody Harrelson’s, and yes, that includes Zombieland.) Even though I’m pretty susceptible to the whims of a good writer, I sometimes find myself trying to resolve the story on my own mid-viewing, which can interfere with my overall enjoyment of the movie. This is the first time I can recall having come up with a few different plot resolutions in my head, but truly preferred the way the movie actually ended. I remember mentally crossing my fingers in the third act, praying they wouldn’t screw up the end and ruin a movie I was really loving. I honestly can’t imagine a better ending, so I was absolutely thrilled!
Second, there’s the magic. It’s a little weird for me to list magic as the second item, but in all film, story is king. Magic is a close second here, and I alternated between geeking out over the staging and daydreaming over possible recreations/interpretations, and just sitting back and enjoying the show as a spectator. Oh sure, there were a few things they did where I could make a pretty educated guess as to what was happening, but lots of magic that happens here is fully aided by the medium of film and the “magic” of CGI. Not surprisingly, both David Copperfield and Chris Kenner were listed in the end credits as assistants in this regard, and I bet I know whose idea it was to float Isla Fisher around in a giant bubble! I really loved watching the swagger in these performers as they did their various acts, both at the beginning as individuals, and combined as a group act. I must confess, the concept of a group act is one that I find intriguing, and indeed some of my associates have bandied about the idea for some time now. I’d like to think that a movie like this could at least provide a bit of inspiration for pushing magic even further beyond the traditional one-man show. I know I enjoyed the magic performances in this movie immensely, and the actors did a terrific job pulling it off.
Speaking of actors, I can’t finish this review without giving major kudos to Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Not only did Freeman get some of the most fantastic lines about magic, but he had quite the meaty role to play. I went into this movie a bit fearful that both Caine and Freeman would function simply as the Big Names To Get People In The Door, but they were actually well-utilized as crucial characters which of course were terrifically well portrayed. And I also knew I was going to adore Mark Ruffalo in his kind of badass role as the lead FBI investigator. He’s really coming into some great roles these days, and he is skyrocketing up my personal list of favorite leading men. With Now You See Me, I do believe he’s landed in my top five.
What else is there to say? This movie was quite thrilling, with its fair share of daring high-speed chases and FBI raids. The characters themselves do a good job second-guessing one another, just as the audience is second-guessing them. There are some really great suspenseful moments in the third act, and you do indeed get a full (but not condescending) wrap-up at the end. The way the story ended made me feel like I had just enjoyed a two-hour magic trick, which was exactly what I wanted, without realizing that I had wanted it. I was fully entertained by a movie with equal amounts of wide-eyed surprises and moments that made me burst out laughing. And now, as someone who works with magicians on a regular basis, I have a host of new ideas running through my head. Some of them are good; others, well…we won’t talk about those. In the meantime, I’m ready to go see this movie again!