Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
The amount of enjoyment you derive from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is directly proportionate to the amount of enjoyment you derived from the National Treasure movies. Much like with National Treasure, we have Jon Turteltaub behind the camera and Nic Cage in front of it, this time wearing a much sillier hairpiece. And much like National Treasure, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is mindlessly entertaining fluff, but doesn’t deliver anything particularly remarkable. The special effects are cool and the characters are likeable enough that you don’t mind spending 90 minutes with them, but the script is riddled with cliches and the entire plot feels like someone skimmed the Cole’s Notes of The Sword in the Stone, changed a bunch of things around, and wrote the movie one afternoon while half-watching a Harry Potter film. One of the early, not-so-great ones.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice centers around two of Merlin’s three disciples: the kind-hearted and kooky Balthasar Blake (Nicolas Cage’s wig) and Maxim Horvath (Doctor Octopus). Balthasar and Horvath were once best friends, but after competing for the love of Merlin’s third disciple Veronica (Monica Bellucci), they become the worst of enemies. When Veronica chooses Balthasar over Horvath, Horvath turns evil and sides with Merlin’s nemesis Morgana le Fay. With Horvath’s help, Morgana kills Merlin, but both she and Horvath are imprisoned in a Russian nesting doll referred to as the Grimhold, which is apparently designed as a kind of nasty wizard trap. With Merlin’s dying breath he instructs Balthasar to seek out the most powerful sorcerer in all of history, someone called “The Prime Merlinian”, and grants Balthasar eternal life in order to complete his quest. Many, many years later in New York, Dave, a ten-year-old boy on a field trip, flirts with a girl in his class named Becky Barnes. After a note she wrote to him flies away on the breeze, Dave takes chase and finds himself inside a shop full of antiques…and Balthasar. Within minutes, Dave has been identified as the Prime Merlinian, Horvath has been accidentally unleashed, there’s a great big magic battle, and both Horvath and Balthasar wind up trapped in a different antiquity – this time a magic vase of some kind. Ten years go by. Dave is now a physics nerd at NYU played by Jay Baruchel, and everyone thinks he’s a bit insane because of his encounter at the magic shop when he was ten. Horvath and Balthasar are released from their prison, and Horvath sets about trying to locate the Grimhold in order to release Morgana le Fay. Balthasar sets out to find Dave, which he does in no time flat, and begins to train him to be a sorcerer.
It all sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? The unlikely and reluctant hero, the wise and quirky mentor, the villain intent on destroying all of mankind…almost like we’ve seen it before. Oh wait, we have! Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Sword in the Stone, Highlander, the list goes on and on. These mentor/reluctant hero plot tropes have been around for decades, and as a result, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice comes off as being a very by-the-numbers retread of the films I just mentioned. Jay Baruchel does manage to salvage things, however, by playing the nebbish, awkward Dave to perfection. And that’s really what it comes down to – the characters and the actors playing them. Nic Cage, Alfred Molina and Jay Baruchel are all very likeable and are clearly having fun with their silly roles, and this makes the movie an easy watch. There’s really no thought required with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. In fact, if you think too much about it, you’ll wind up with the same questions that I did upon seeing it for a second time.
For starters: magic. This movie asks you to suspend your disbelief and accept that magic is a real thing, a sort of pseudo-scientific force that allows you to do the impossible. The problem with this is that it leads to the inevitable questioning of magic’s boundaries. There’s more than one situation where you find yourself asking why a character doesn’t just magic themselves out of danger. It’s established early on that Balthasar can bring the steel eagles on the Chrysler building to life. That’s some pretty freaking powerful magic! So why doesn’t he just bring the Statue of Liberty to life and stomp on the evil wizards like they were bugs? Hey, it worked in Ghostbusters 2…
Another magical inconsistency is that Horvath must use his magic cane/staff to cast spells, whereas Balthasar only needs a ring…though even that seems unnecessary. Balthasar keeps telling Dave that he can do magic without the ring…so why are these rings and staves and canes and wands necessary at all? We’re given absolutely no guidelines as to how magic works, and while this allows the filmmakers to just do whatever they want with it, it leads to annoyance if you think about the movie at all after walking out of the theatre.
After a second viewing, I also noticed some places where the film had obviously been cut up and rearranged for pacing (or whatever reasons the studio execs cooked up). Many scenes from the trailer are missing (Nic Cage’s coffee cup fails to explode in the final cut), and several scenes have been split in two and placed at opposite ends of the movie’s running time. In one training sequence, Dave is wearing umpire armor to protect himself from the plasma bolts he’s shooting around. Later on, he’s wearing it again without any explanation, and it’s obvious that the later scene was supposed to take place directly after the training sequence. These kinds of edits aren’t really obvious on a first viewing, and I’m guessing that Disney isn’t counting on any return business. But still – it’s sloppy filmmaking, and I expected a bit better. Cutting some of my favourite lines from the trailer out of the film makes the whole thing a bit of a tease. I was waiting for Horvath to say the awesome line “All that drivel about good versus evil? The world is about two things: power and control.” throughout the whole movie, but he never says it. Lame, lame, lame. I hate it when trailers feature stuff that isn’t in the film.
All ranting aside, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t bad. It’s not great, but it’s far from terrible, and it’s much more watchable than other movies that use similar plot formulas. I’ll take this over Percy Jackson and the Olympians any day. Make this a rental, drink a few beers, have some friends over to laugh at it, and you’ll have a good time. Then promptly forget all about it.
2.5 out of 5