A mysterious stranger draws in four magicians to work their charms in a three-act performance, promising them knowledge about a century’s old society that has “protected” magic for thousands of years. Drawing the attention of audiences, the press, the government, and other shadowy figures, these four individuals become “The Four Horsemen,” beautifully crafted by their mysterious benefactor and hurtling toward an explosive finale in Now You See Me. But the ultimate question, on several levels remains, will you be a true believer or a cynical critic?
Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), the slight of hand expert, is the “alpha male” in a quartet that is mostly bland and shallow from a character perspective. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is Atlas’ former assistant, now a Houdini-like magician in her own right. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) allows the crew to be a quartet, but he’s obviously the “baby” of the group, that concludes with Merritt Osborne (Woody Harrelson), the horny, creepy mentalist who is always angling for something within the context of the witty repartee and overall development of the action. But these folks are the anti-heroes we’re rooting for, even if we don’t clearly understand what we’re rooting against. It’s like watching The Italian Job meets Ocean’s Eleven meets The Prestige.
We know that investor Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) is at one time on their side and at one time against them; we know that magician-turned-magic-debunker/reality TV star Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is certainly not out to see them succeed. But the most dangerous opposition seems to come from FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his Interpol colleague Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent), who debate the finer points of magic like a faith-versus-science Mulder and Scully.
Interspersed between the dialogue of Rhodes and Vargas are some breathtaking stunts. Our introductions to the cast of characters are nice, as is the “who’s really locked up?” stunt in the interrogation room. But from Act I to the stunning conclusion in Act III, we see that the stunts are getting more dangerous, more spellbinding (even if the trailer probably gives too much away). And through it all, if you’re so inclined, you can try to unravel the purpose, the meaning, the mystery of the Horsemen, and the history of magic.
From a “digging deeper” perspective, I’m impressed by the dialogue between Rhodes and Vargas. Rhodes professes serious doubt in the magic or illusions that the Horsemen do, calling it things like a sham or manipulation, while Vargas asks him if what he sees in the tricks doesn’t bring him a little bit of joy? While the ending makes this discussion tricky, it does show us that Vargas’ perception of reality, and her heart for magic, awakens in Rhodes something unexpected. Her story, her “witness” to magic, provides him with insight he hadn’t seen before in the course of the plot. But it also says something about what we believe in even when we can’t see it.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”-Hebrews 11:1
What we see here is “faith.” The Four Horsemen have faith in the plan laid out for them by their mysterious benefactor. Vargas has faith in the magic. Rhodes grows to have faith in Vargas. Ultimately, the faith we have in our lives must be placed in unquantifiable things that we may never “see” but which dictate how we live our lives. You may have faith in God. But if you don’t, you have faith in the writings and teachings of those who say that there is definitively no God. In other words, we all have faith in something. And it will ultimately lead to peace and joy, or it will leave us broken-hearted, with nothing.
Just like this magical parable: you have to choose one faith or another.
Just for fun, for those keeping track: Here’s my “mathematical equation” so far this summer. Iron Man 3> Star Trek Into Darkness >Now You See Me > Fast & Furious 6