Remember that movie starring lots of actors known for big budget roles in recent years that I said was a boring waste of time? To test my theory about the flaws of Now You See Me, I watched Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, which hits on similar ground. And it also stars a host of notable characters otherwise played by the stars:
- Batman and Alfred Pennyworth
- Black Widow
- Maya from Iron Man 3
And the results are very different.
Both films are filled with magic tricks (“They’re not tricks,” GOB would tell us, “They’re illusions; tricks are something whores do for money.”), revealing secrets, slight of hand, betrayal, characters with hidden agendas, people who seemingly die, giant leaps of faith, and a story line that is non-chronological.
In his non-review for The Huffington Post, Brian Ross chastises critics for not getting it and for having the nerve to even review Now You See Me. (Only 26% of Top Critics praise the movie on Rotten Tomatoes) He spends much of his article dismissing the critics rather than commenting on the movie because talking about this “well-crafted’ film would ruin it. He seems to think the clever magic is al that should…well, shouldn’t be talked about.
The Prestige and Now You See Me are movies of the same genre and focus. The primary difference between them is one had interesting characters and one had cardboard personas.
Just take Michael Caine, the one actor who is in both. In Now You See Me, he is Arthur Tressler, a billionaire who likes to hang around the magicians at the center of the film. We learn just about nothing about him. We have no reason to like or dislike him – except he is being played by Michael Caine. His character has no development and is only reactionary to the circumstances around him.
In The Prestige, he is John Cutter, a creator of magical illusions. He goes through a roller coaster of emotions as his own choices and those around him interlock in creating ethically and morally troubling scenarios. He becomes the moral center of the movie and with constantly developing information about the protagonists, we react to many events through his eyes.
Perhaps that’s not fair to compare one supporting character. So let’s go to the magicians. By movie’s end, what do we know about Jesse Eisenberg or Isla Fisher or Woody Harrelson or Dave Franco – the 4 primary magicians? Nothing. We don’t know who they are or where they come from. Although a motive is ascribed for their morally complicated actions, it is again told to us rather than demonstrated. We have nothing to build on from the characters to understand how they got that way. By the end of The Prestige, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman have each made many complicated and even horrifying choices, but regardless of whether we support them, they are rich, better drawn individuals and we have a sense of how they got to each step.
In short, the “magic,” however clever or clumsy, isn’t the problem. The plot is preposterous and requires great leaps in both. It is the writing, the characters. Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan wrote actual characters. Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt created one dimensional plot devices.
So, I still conclude again about Now You See Me: It is not offensive. Just boring and a waste of time.