I really had no expectations for this movie, which means I wasn't in any way disappointed by it. In fact, NYSM2 was more or less exactly what I thought it would be. Which is to say, more of the same but not as good as the first. Isn't that usually how these things go?
Thing is, I enjoyed the first movie for what it was. I found it entertaining and engaging. Unfortunately, the sequel chose to enhance the least entertaining and engaging aspects from the first film and cut back on the better things. For example, there seems to be less magic in NYSM2 and more running away from various organizations.
Let's recap from NYSM: Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman) is in prison after Dylan and the Horsemen frame him for stealing money from the various heists or whatever. The Horsemen become official members of The Eye with Dylan as their handler/leader. As NYSM2 opens, we get a flashback to Dylan's father's stunt-gone-wrong that killed him, the one Dylan blames Thaddeus for, the whole reason for his elaborate revenge plot in the first movie. We also discover the Horsemen are cooling their heels and waiting for a new "assignment" from The Eye. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) thinks he should be in charge of the group. He's been secretly contacting The Eye directly, and he's told to wait, his moment is coming . . .
And then there's Lula. Isla Fisher did not return as Henley, so they've plugged the need-a-girl hole with Lizzy Caplan. The character is almost certainly created by a man because it has all the earmarks of what male writers use to make "strong female characters," which really ends up being obnoxious female characters. She talks too much, is very forward about her interest in one of the men (male fantasy much?), and borders on being a manic pixie dream girl. Nothing against Caplan, who probably was doing the best she could with the material and nailed it . . . For what it is.
We're also graced with Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Mabry, also doing his best with what he's been given. I assume the direction was to be manic and psychopathic, and there's a hint of a really cool villain in there somewhere, but it's never given enough opportunity to be fully realized. The story is too crowded with other players, including a wholly unnecessary double-turn for Woody Harrelson as his own twin brother.
In fact, the entire script hinges on family of one kind or another. Dylan continues to deal with his father's death and the hollow victory of having put Thaddeus behind bars, Merritt's twin Chase wants "Mer Bear" (gag me) to pay for past sins against him, and Walter . . . Well, I won't ruin the surprise there, though it's not much of one.
Now You See Me was about magicians who happened to be pulling off magnificent heists. NYSM2 is about heists pulled off by people who just happen to be magicians. The fun in NYSM was the magic, but there isn't much of any in the sequel. Even the cast can't manage much chemistry.
I will say there's one thing I'm glad of (highlight to read this spoiler): They didn't have Dylan's dad still be alive. There were moments I feared that was the direction they were going, and to do so would have undercut everything in the first movie.