At the heart of this film, like that of its predecessor, is a sense of adventure and wonder.
The master magicians known as the Four Horsemen return for their most daring and astounding caper ever in Now You See Me 2, elevating the limits of stage illusion to new heights in hopes of clearing their names and exposing the ruthlessness of a dangerous tech magnate.
One year after their astonishing Robin Hood-style magic shows win the public’s adulation and confound the FBI, the quartet resurfaces for a dazzling comeback performance that will make their previous escapades seem like child’s play. With the help of FBI Special Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), the Horsemen — J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and new addition Lula (Lizzy Caplan) — mount a meticulously planned surprise appearance, in hopes of exposing corrupt tech tycoon Owen Case (Ben Lamb).
But their scheme backfires, exposing Dylan’s involvement with the Horsemen and sending all five of them back on the run. To regain their freedom and their reputations they are forced by wealthy recluse Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) to recover an unimaginably powerful computer chip stolen by his treacherous former business partner — none other than Owen Case. The Horsemen soon find themselves once again squaring off against unscrupulous businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and professional skeptic Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) as they attempt to accomplish the most difficult heist of their careers — but even they cannot anticipate the ultimate surprise awaiting them.
The film is directed by Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2: The Streets, G. I. Joe: Retaliation) from a screenplay by Ed Solomon (Now You See Me, Men in Black), story by Ed Solomon & Peter Chiarelli (The Proposal, Eagle Eye), and based on characters created by Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt.
In 2013, Now You See Me mesmerized the world with the David and Goliath escapades of the Four Horsemen, a preternaturally gifted group of professional illusionists who pull off daring heists at the expense of a corrupt billionaire. Now You See Me 2 brings back the talented group in a lightning-paced global adventure that blurs the line between heroes and villains as the Horsemen continue their mission armed only with their imaginations, skill and camaraderie.
The success of the first film, which grossed over $300 million worldwide and earned the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Thriller, made the Horsemen’s return to the screen inevitable, helmed this time by director Jon M. Chu, whose previous credits include two chapters of the popular Step Up series and the 2013 concert film Justin Bieber’s Believe. With expertise in movement, technology and cutting-edge design, Chu brought just the combination of skills the producers were looking for to make big, bold and innovative onscreen magic.
A big fan of Now You See Me, Chu jumped at the chance to work with a cast full of world-class actors, including five Oscar® winners and nominees, to make a movie combining magic, storytelling and mystery. “This script was so much fun to work on,” he continues. “However this time around, we get to be with the Horsemen as they are trapped in a magic trick themselves and have to use their illusionist skills to get out. Ed Solomon is a brilliant writer and combines intricate story architecture with a breezy pace and fun tone that makes the movie an event for the whole family.”
If directing a sequel to a massively successful movie presented a daunting challenge, it was one Chu was anxious to take on. “I admire everyone involved with this film,” he says. “When we all sat down together, it was very intimidating. But everyone was focused on making a great movie, so the collaboration was amazing.”
Producer Bobby Cohen, a veteran of Now You See Me, happily returned to work on the second chapter. “When we made the first film, we loved it and knew we were on to something, but it never even occurred to us that we would make a sequel. It was very gratifying to be able to call the people who took that original leap of faith with us and say, ‘What do you think about doing another one?’”
Writer Ed Solomon, who co-wrote the first film, collaborated with Peter Chiarelli on the new story, which incorporates even more magic, intrigue and action, as well as an international setting. His goal was to capture the spirit of the original movie while reinventing the concept. “We have this group of characters that we really love hanging out with,” Solomon says. “What could be different this time? We had the idea of presenting them with a magic trick that they get trapped in and have to figure their way out of. We thought that would be exciting and fun, while giving us a lot to work with.”
In Now You See Me 2 the filmmakers have shifted from a performance-oriented heist movie to something harder to categorize, in Solomon’s opinion. “For me, movies that defy easy classification are the most successful,” he says. “I can’t describe what this genre is. It’s been called a spy-thriller or a caper movie. Some people call it a magic-comedy. It’s a little bit of all of those things. We tried to create the feeling that you’re watching a really great magician at work. You know you’re being fooled, but you don’t know how it’s being done. It is a slightly heightened reality with characters who are a little bit smarter than most people, people who have skills that seem almost like super powers.”
The audience will feel like they are watching first hand as great magicians do their best work, according to the screenwriter, whose numerous past credits include Men in Black and cult-classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. “You should have that dual response that magic so often evokes,” Solomon says. “You are amazed by what you are seeing even though you know you’re being fooled. You’re excited to see where it will take you. There’s that wonderful suspension of disbelief.”
Solomon praises Chu’s on-set demeanor, as well as his innate filmmaking instincts. “There are so many things that I really like about working with Jon,” says the screenwriter. “He’s very trusting of the artists around him because he believes they will bring their best work to the movie. Just knowing he believes that makes people strive to do it. He’s got an incredible eye and he’s really good with choreography and movement. His rapport with the actors is great. Jon runs a really calm and easy set, and given how complicated this movie is, that’s a really great place to be.”
“I’ve known Jon for about ten years,” says Cohen. “He had just come out of USC film school, where he made an extraordinary short that was a full-fledged musical. He was one of the first people we thought of for this. He really understands that choreography and movement within a frame is essential to what magicians do.”
Now You See Me 2 picks up one year after the first film ends, with the Horsemen in hiding and waiting to find out what the mysterious secret society of magicians known as The Eye will ask of them next. Although the Horsemen’s nemesis, Thaddeus Bradley, a notorious debunker of magic, has been framed for their crimes and jailed, the magicians remain the subjects of an FBI manhunt.
“In the first movie, the Horsemen know their plan before we do,” says Cohen. “The audience has the pleasure of trying to figure it out. This time, things go wrong very quickly for the Horsemen. The audience can look forward to watching a movie that has a bigger scope, bigger laughs and bigger action, while going deeper into the mythology of The Eye. We have impressive magic tricks, more puzzles, more surprises and so much more fun.”
At the heart of this film, like that of its predecessor, is a sense of adventure and wonder, says Solomon. “I hope it’s at least as much fun for the audience to watch as it was for us to make,” he adds. “I think people love magic for the same reason they love jokes. It’s the element of surprise. You know it’s a game, but you feel safe. People love watching an expert doing something they don’t quite understand and trying to get to the bottom of that mystery.”
Making Real Magic
Once again, the filmmakers behind Now You See Me 2 brought in the world’s foremost magicians to help create real-life illusions that boggle the mind and are performed “in camera” by the cast, with little or no help from the special-effects department.
For the magic to work, the audience has to feel they are experiencing it as it takes place, says Chu. “It can be hard to shoot magic for a film. With visual effects, you can make a dinosaur come to life, an alien land on earth, anything. But we decided to do as much practical magic as we could and teach the actors how to actually do it. It’s important that the audience doesn’t think we’re cheating — and we’re not. We are actually doing the magic on screen as you watch, with no cuts. And then what’s fun is that later in the movie, we will show you how it was done.”
Chu was determined to make bigger and bolder illusions than ever before, which meant asking a lot more of the cast. The actors attended magic camp a few weeks before shooting began, where they spent hours honing their dexterity, learning to make things disappear and how a professional magician talks and moves. Mark Ruffalo even learned to breathe fire for the film.
Once again, the filmmakers behind Now You See Me 2 brought in the world’s foremost magicians to help create real-life illusions. “One of the hardest things to get right about this movie, and yet also one of the most fun parts of the job, was integrating the magic into it,” says Solomon. “You don’t realize just how much hard work goes into making something seem effortless. I’m not speaking simply of magic tricks, whether they are small, medium or large. I am talking about creating a mood of magic throughout whole movie, so that it works like one big magic trick. We tried to create the suspension of disbelief that you have when you’re at a magic show.”
The filmmakers turned to some of magic’s biggest names for help even while developing the script, including mentalist, hypnotist and magician Keith Barry and world-famous illusionist David Copperfield, who serves as co-producer.
“Our consultants are among the best,” Solomon says. “Keith was on the set every single day. David was very involved in helping me construct some of the set pieces. Getting to just call David Copperfield and say, ‘I have this idea for an illusion,’ was incredible. David was super helpful. He is so aware of things like depth of field and the way it affects the eye and the mind.”
Barry, who has been performing publicly since he was four also provided ongoing technical support. “The way Ed’s mind works is amazing,” Barry says. “He put in phenomenal twists and turns that set this apart from the first film. It’s a lot faster-paced and there’ll be a lot more magic. We’ve jam-packed it with illusions, mentalism, cardistry and hypnotism.”
Consulting across all departments, he worked closely with the actors on their individual scenes and skills, collaborated with the props and special effects, and helped Solomon design illusions that could be performed live.
“It would be much easier to use visual effects, but it’s important for the movie-going audience to know that the things that we’ve done are real,” says Barry. “That’s the essence of a good magic movie. If we put in a lot of CGI, people would realize that we can do anything that way, even things that can’t be done in real life. We made a decision to use the least amount of CGI possible, which was fun for me, because I live for performing live. I hope that will resonate with the audience.”
In addition to Barry, magicians Andrei Jikh and Blake Vogt were also brought in to assist the cast and filmmakers with the technical aspects of the magic sequences. Vogt worked closely with the prop crew to make sure that as many of the effects as possible happened in camera. “Coming from a magician’s standpoint, this is a perfect movie,” Vogt says. “It’s about a team of magicians, which is a great twist. In real life, we do work together and challenge each other to be better and more inventive all the time. Even on the set, I’d do a trick, then Andrei would do a trick. We go back and forth. It’s cool to see a movie based on that.”
Jikh, an expert in cardistry, trained the actors to manipulate playing cards with amazing speed and accuracy. “We trained the cast in how to think like a cardist: how to secretly conceal cards, how to throw them like a ninja, and flick the cards from hand to hand. All of these things required focus, practice and insane dexterity. We had a lot of fun and the cast did an amazing job learning each and every technique.”
The ultimate goal of the entire magic team, according to Barry, was to capture the childlike sense of wonder we lose as we become adults. “My hope is that for the two hours they are watching this movie, people will just lose themselves in it,” he says. “As we grow up, we start to understand how the world works and it takes away that sense of wonder. If you happen to meet a magician at a party, it will bring you back to it, to not knowing how something is done. It just gives you that little buzz. And that’s what we magicians live for — performing in theaters before a thousand people at a time and just giving them a moment to forget about their everyday lives, about their problems, and remember what it is to wonder again.”
Chu hopes that he and everyone involved in the film have created something that will appeal to moviegoers of all ages. “It has suspense,” he says. “It has an emotional story. It has spectacle. It’s a fun ride with plenty of magic tricks and some of the best actors in the world, legends and future legends. These things combined should create an unforgettable movie experience. If you want to have a fun time with your friends or your family, to experience something you will talk about afterward, this is the movie to go to.”