A mysterious person spots talent in four nobodies. He brings their different skills together to create an amazing magic show. Mystery Man then uses this elite force of magicians to rob a few banks and set a wrong right. We won't disclose the identity of the Charles Xavier/Danny Ocean of Now You See Me, since that's the major twist in the tale, but it seems safe to say that by the end, Now You See Me film feels like a setup for a series rather than a standalone film.
FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is far from amused when he is assigned a case in which the suspects appear to have used magic to pull off a bank robbery. The Four Horsemen are a group of magicians and their newest trick is to make money from bank vaults disappear. Seconds later, that money is scattered like confetti over the audience. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the smart-alecky leader of the Four Horsemen. Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a hypnotist, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a pickpocket. Rhodes follows Atlas and gang from show to show, all over America, becoming angrier and more befuddled with every air mile that he adds to his account. Also on the Four Horsemen's trail is Thaddaeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who makes his living by revealing how magicians do their tricks. Who is the brain behind these spectacular illusions? Why are the Horsemen performing all these stunts if not for the money? Is there actually such a thing as magic?
Ruffalo is solidly convincing as grizzly Dylan Rhodes even though the role of the FBI agent who doesn't believe in magic is terribly hackneyed. Freeman as the debunker holds your attention. Michael Caine is wasted in a character that conveniently disappears once his job is done. For once, Eisenberg is not playing a socially-awkward young adult. There's some fungus-like stubble to underscore the point. Eisenberg as Atlas has swagger and a smooth, sharp edge that makes you wish the writers had given the character a little more to do and a lot more depth.
In comparison to Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, which is still the finest film made on the world of magicians, Now You See Me is flimsy. But Leterrier's aim seems to have been the precise opposite of what Nolan achieved with The Prestige. In contrast to Nolan's trademark darkness, Now You See Me is light-hearted and spectacle-driven. Ironically for a script in which characters repeatedly urge you to look past the flamboyance, the film is far more fascinated by the distractions than the trick itself.
Ultimately, the loose ends of the story don’t add up convincingly and the characters are lamentably uni-dimensional, but Leterrier and his team of five writers do manage to keep the suspense going for most of Now You See Me. The final climax, however, is terribly dissatisfying. After all the technical wizardry in the build-up, the magicians and the audience land up at a merry-go-round. Seeing the magicians stare at the revolving wooden horses as though these are the eighth wonder of the world, you can’t help but wonder if this is the creative equivalent of writers sticking their tongues out at us.
Rumour has it that in Bollywood, if you want to get a film produced what you need more than anything else is a one-line description of your plot. Preferably, that one-liner should reference existing films so that when you drop it in conversation with a producer, they can add up the crores those films have made and thus feel more inclined to produce your film. This may not be true of Hollywood, but it's easy to imagine director Louis Leterrier selling Now You See Me to producers Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci as Ocean's Eleven meets The X-Men. Now You See Me isn't as stylish or fantastic as either of those films, but lower your expectations and you'll have fun (which is more than can be said of After Earth).