This is the second time I’ve seen this film and interestingly, the same problems I had with it the first time, I still have in the same way. So at least it’s consistent.
There’s an interesting thing about seeing a caper film a second time. Well, any film with a “twist” or two in it, I suppose, but caper films are known for being heavily reliant on specific plot details not being revealed until late in the game, Particularly this one, which involves magic tricks. See, watching it for the first time (and yes, I went my second time with a friend who hadn’t seen it before) you’re not expecting the surprise ending and when it comes, it hits you full in the gut. But that second (and subsequent) viewings, when you’re ready for the punch, you can usually see it coming a mile away and sometimes, that telegraphy can completely ruin the film. The Sixth Sense is like that. In recent days, due to his involvement with the Will/Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth, director M. Night Shyamalan has come to be revealed for the charlatan he is and Sixth Sense proves it. Watching that film once you know the ending is an exercise in tedium. The only reason it garnered the praise it did at the time was people weren’t expecting that hit and when it came, it sent them reeling.
So what about Now You See Me? Does it hold up? For me, yes it does. Knowing what was coming I was able to keep an eye where I wasn’t supposed to be looking and so, in effect, look behind the scenes. This is one of the tenants of the film (and of magic). The secret is misdirection. When you’re looking one place, the real action is happening somewhere else. In this case, the story of a band of magicians brought together for a mysterious purpose, the key lies in who are these individuals and what do they want. What kind of cohesion allows them to stay together for the year required for them to pull off the effects they pull off and what do they hope to get out of it? Ultimately, their goal is to join a mysterious, magik (with a “K”) organization whose goals are of a Robin Hood variety. They do this by… Well, that’s one of the problems. We’re never really sure. Do they pull off the “take from the rich and give to the poor” scenario? Yeah. But that’s never in any doubt. It’s tainted, however, by the fact they do it in the service of a personal revenge story. Do the ends justify the means? Maybe. But this secret society was my biggest problem with the story. Honestly, I loved the capers and I loved the revenge element. I loved the fact they pulled it off brilliantly. What I didn’t like is that except for one or two forgivable moments, everything they did could have been done with modern magical technologies (and a fair bit of luck). But then, at the very end, we get into the world of the mystic, where “real” magic exists and my question is “why?” To what end? Why betray your initial concept with a fantasy cop-out?
The film is definitely worth seeing, though. As heist and caper films go, it’s one of the better ones of recent years.