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How Not To Do Magic vs Mundane
The Illusionist already has a lot I dislike about it. I dislike the clichéd costume drama device of class disparity = conflict. I dislike how Norton's idea of "mysterious and brooding" means squinting and smirking a lot (leave those affectations to Derren Brown). The Illusionist's greatest failing, however, is its total lack of tension.

With a "maybe magic, maybe mundane" story, it is necessary to keep the mystical events ambiguous enough to be explained either by magic or by tricks. This is vital if you want to make it a recurring theme to your story. The Illusionist fails to do this. The illusions are so complex, they can't be explained by anything other than magic. Even though the movie tries to suggest that there are mechanics and trickery involved, these (WWI era) props would have to be so implausibly sophisticated, they might as well be magical. Cursory research tells me that many of the tricks in the film are based on real tricks performed by 19th Century magicians. Perhaps if the film actually recreated those tricks properly, instead of using CGI versions, the audience might have seen how the tricks could be done without magic.

Once it becomes apparent that the illusionist can basically do anything with his magic/impossible props, all the tension evaporates. There is no way the Prince can threaten such an overpowered hero. The magic is so flaky and vague, the writers could Ass Pull any solution to a problem. Because of this, there is no conflict. There is no mystery. There is no point in feeling concerned for the heroes, because they will inevitably sort themselves out. Unless you have an attraction to smug looking men, I wouldn't bother with this film.
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