By David Templeton
“I tried really hard to hate it.”
So admits magician Christian Cagigal about Now You See Me 2, the rambunctious sequel to 2013’s sneaker-punch hit Now You See Me. The story of four bank-robbing Las Vegas magicians called the Four Horsemen (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher), the movie was embraced by audiences but criticized by actual magicians, who generally believed the film gave illusionists a bad name.
Cagigal (christiancagigal.com), Artist in Residence at San Francisco’s EXIT Theatre, and a sought-after magic consultant for film and stage, was one of those who found the film to be less than illuminating. Therefore, Cagigal did not expect very much from the film’s frisky follow-up, in which a shady internet executive, played by former teen-wizard Daniel Radcliffe, blackmails the Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher having been replaced by a much funnier Lizzy Caplan) into using their skills to steal a high-tech spying device. The award-winning prestidigitator certainly did not expect part two to be so thoroughly entertaining.
“What can I say? It is what it is,” Cagigal says, immediately after catching the flick at a San Francisco matinee. “It’s a silly, fun, loud, pyrotechnic summer film, and it isn’t trying to be anything else. It has twists and turns, and it’s obviously written by people who love the art of magic. And it’s full of little inside magic references, so yes, as much as I tried to hate it, I have to admit it was actually pretty fun.”
Cagigal, of course, is intimately familiar with fun. Not only has his highly theatrical magic act been praised for its eerie storytelling and dazzling slight-of-hand, he’s also the owner of a popular tourist attraction known as the San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour, a magical mystery trip to several of the city’s most notorious haunted landmarks.
As for the inside references embedded in Now You See Me 2, Cagigal says you might have to be an international magic fan—or a practicing magician—to catch some of them, including the inclusion of Chase McKinney (Brick Patrick), the fluffy-haired twin brother of Woody Harrelson’s master hypnotist, Merritt McKinney.
“That guy, the twin, he was totally inspired by a famous magician in Macau,” Cagigal reveals. “And of course, a lot of the movie is set in Macau, where he performs a lot, so that just makes it more of a thing.”
“That goofball,” I ask, “was based on a real guy?”
Yes it was, and his name is Franz Harary.
“Harary has designed and consulted for all kinds of celebrity pop stars and rock stars, for their big concert shows,” Cagigal says. “And he’s in Macau right now. Macau is the place to be if you want to be a magician. So first we get the surprise of seeing another Woody Harrelson on screen when Chase appears, but then there he is looking just like Franz Harary. I mean, Harrelson’s hair is a lot more ‘reigned in’ than Harary’s hair. But it’s Franz Harary.
“So, as a magic nerd myself,” he goes on, “I was sitting there going, ‘Ah, hey! I get it! He’s supposed to be Franz Harary! That’s funny.’”
The point being, maybe actual magicians—in particular, people who love magic as much as Cagigal does—were telling this particular story. That’s a crucial part of why this Now You See Me feels so much better than the first Now You See Me.
“As a nerdy magician,” he says with a laugh, “there were a lot of things to appreciate in the film, even if a lot of it is pretty out there.”
“Like pulling a hat out of a rabbit—as one of the Horsemen is said to have done?” I ask.
“Well, that was pretty funny, yes!” he allows. “But remember the scene where they’re trying to steal the computer chip? And the computer chip is stuck on the playing card, and the Horsemen are sort of slipping the card around, hiding it from the guys searching them, and passing it from one magician to the other? I loved that scene. Yes, it was obviously enhanced by CG effects, but I was kind of going, ‘You know, this isn’t exactly possible—but then it isn’t exactly impossible either.’”
Cagigal looks to magicians like Harry Houdini. “When Houdini was doing some of his publicity stunts, like say, the jailbreak escapes,” Cagigal explains, “he always just had a key or something—but he would magic it around to hide it, even when he was being stripped naked. It was in his hair, or he had a way of concealing it in his hand and moving it around as he was searched, or maybe he just got to the jail early and hid the key in the cell. So in the movie, though the tricks were certainly done using computer effects, they were based on tricks that could conceivably actually be done.”
Another inside reference is a particularly spectacular stunt perpetrated by Radcliffe, in which the Horsemen slide down a tube at the top of a building in New York and land in a back alley in, yes, Macau.
“There’s a magician in the U.K. named Derren Brown, though he’d call himself a psychological illusionist,” Cagigal says.
Cagigal describes an “illusion,” of sorts, that Brown once performed on television. A volunteer is magically transported from London to Morocco, and has no idea how he got there. Was it real? Who knows?
“But what happens to the Horsemen is definitely a reference to what Derren Brown did in that TV special,” Cagigal says. “And it was fun to catch that reference.
“That’s exactly why this movie was so hard to hate,” he says with a laugh. “There’s just so much love for magic and magicians in it. How can anyone not love that?”