A great mystery weaves through the darkness with a certain momentum. It dodges left, cuts right, moves in all directions and then suddenly circles around and flips on the lights to reveal an intricately designed puzzle that’s not missing a single piece. As the credits role, it makes you believe there’s no other way the film could have accounted for the exact sequence of events, and it makes you want to rewatch to see how well everything holds up with your newfound knowledge.
Now You See Me weaves through the mysterious darkness with momentum and humor, but when the lights are suddenly flicked on, it doesn’t offer that perfect puzzle reveal we all yearn for. Yes, the plot points add up to the conclusion, but with only a few minor tweaks the final act could have easily gone in a handful of other different directions. That lack of meticulous planning is a bit of a disappointment, but it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. As every magician knows, the anticipation and build-up are far more riveting than learning how it was done anyway.
Now You See Me follows three magicians and a mentalist, all at different points in their careers. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a rising star with plenty of street cred. Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson) is a once world-renowned mentalist trying to fight his way back after tax problems. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is J. Daniel’s former assistant trying to make a name for herself with daring escapes, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a nobody who performs around town to hone his craft. After being mysteriously brought together, they join forces to become the magic act known as The Four Horsemen and wind up landing a gig in Las Vegas - which they close by helping a man from France rob his local bank of millions.
How did they do it? Why did they do it? And what are they planning next? These are questions for not only the two investigators (Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent) sent to look into the case but also the audience. In the world of magic, the misdirection is just as important as the sleight of hand, and the extravaganza is just as important as the payoff. The film is well aware of both of these concepts, and director Louis Leterrier throws in as many elaborate sequences and red herrings as possible in order to thrill, excite and puzzle.
From an entertainment standpoint, the action is clearly driven by Eisenberg’s Atlas and Harrelson’s Osbourne. Both cocksure and hilariously antagonistic in their own ways, they’re clearly the two standout characters, and as such, the film occasionally loses track of its other two Horsemen. In fact, during one early interrogation sequence featuring the four principals in different rooms, Franco and Fisher are barely featured at all. Their characters are more often than not afterthoughts rather than mediums for entertainment, and the same could be said for Ruffalo's Dylan Rhodes and Laurent's Alma Vargas who sometimes feel more like plot necessities than engaging human beings.
Now You See Me is not the intensely complicated, all-time classic mental thrill ride it would like to be. But how many magic tricks really are? This one is intensely fun and fascinating while it’s unfolding, and that counts for something.