THE CONJURING 2 [R] B+
The demon hunting adventures of Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren continue in the latest old school spook-fest from director James Wan, who after a fast start in the torture porn game (the “Saw” franchise) has settled into a thrillingly macabre mode. The Warrens, paranormal investigators extraordinaire coming off the noted experience in Amityville, head to Enfield, England to face off against a poltergeist that has latched onto a single mother and her hapless family. Wan has proven quite adept at using all narrative and framing devices at his disposal to tease and coax any kind of emotional response from audiences, conjuring substantial box office clout along the way, and he’s aided her by a pair of real professionals in Farmiga and Patrick, who have found characters worth inhabiting, seemingly for the long haul. “The Conjuring 2” is a deliciously slow building affair that comes on strong at the end because Wan makes sure we are as invested as humanly possible in his characters.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2 [PG-13] C+
Imagine “Ocean’s Twelve” (specifically “Twelve” from that series) and “Fast Five” were mashed-up by a frenzied fanboy, released online, and spied by a Hollywood executive’s assistant who saw this as a chance to grab a spot at the big table. “Now You See Me 2” is not just the likely result, but the prime example you would point to, if you were attempting to make such a case. Director Jon Chu (“GI Joe: Retaliation”) wields stylistic flourishes here like the bluntest of instruments, where Steven Soderbergh, even in a breezy studio caper, knew and appreciated the light, deft touch needed to disarm audiences. And unlike Justin Lin, from game-changing “The Fast and the Furious” later releases, Chu seeks to go hard with magic without realizing that you need a human center of sorts to ground the hijinks. “Now You See Me 2” has a bunch of returning characters, but no visible emotional anchor.
WARCRAFT [PG-13] D
Poor Duncan Jones. You can see, in the quieter character-driven moments in his gamer-fantasy, that he wanted to explore the humanity of his characters, both human and Orc, real and motion-captured, but there’s a crushingly ordinary quality to the exchanges. Which is too bad because the special effects seamlessly integrate live action and computer-generated forms without drawing undue attention. There’s none of the sweeping majesty of “Lord of the Rings,” but maybe it is time that we move past that expectation. Which means, you have to invest the basics – characters and narrative elements – with more than a cursory nod. I don’t know much about the world of gaming, but I assume there has been a marked increase in creating story beats between the action sequences. Someone should have reminded the screenwriters (Jones and Charles Leavitt along with Chris Metzen who provided the story and characters) that complexity should not be seen as a sign of weakness.