The Sorcerer's Apprentice
What It Is
Dave (Jay Baruchel) is a good kid. He studies physics at school, lives alone in a one-room New York apartment, and does his best to forget a childhood trauma. That trauma is recounted during the early moments of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: as a boy, he stumbles into an old curios shop, where he meets the wild-haired sorcerer Balthazar (Nicolas Cage). Informed that he’s a special child, young Dave is not exactly thrilled. In fact, he’s quite frightened by the raucous magic wreaked by Balthazar and his glowering nemesis Horvath (Alfred Molina). Worse, he’s humiliated when his classmates discover him, alone and fearful after the sorcerers’ battle. The kids not only disbelieve his story, but they also laugh at him mercilessly.
Ten years and many therapy sessions later, Dave has convinced himself the entire event was a hallucination. Imagine his surprise when Balthazar and Hovarth both arrive on his doorstep. They still believe he’s a special sorcerer-to-be, the one foretold back in 470 AD, when they were both disciples of Merlin. Back then, they fought over a beautiful third sorcerer, Veronica (Monica Belucci), and when she fell for Balthazar, the broken-hearted Hovarth teamed up with the evil Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige). When this bad pair tried to destroy the world, Veronica sacrificed herself, linking her soul with Morgana’s. Since then, the two lady sorcerers have been buffeted across the centuries inside a set of nesting dolls.
Here’s where Dave comes in: as a teenager, he’s some kind of super-sorcerer (here called the Prime Merlinian), the only one who can finish off Morgana. So, he’s suddenly caught between good guy Balthazar (who wants to train him) and still angry Hovarth, who wants to kill him, with the help of his own young apprentice, a vain celebrity magician named Drake (Toby Kebell). While the two old sorcerers do battle in the streets of New York, Dave learns, more or less, how to control his awesome powers.
Why It’s Fun
There’s a fun idea in this movie. When it first introduces Balthazar and Hovarth, they seem to embody another age, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice looks a little like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, trying to update ancient myths and characters. But this idea is soon lost, as the sorcerers are immersed in their current contretemps and loud action scenes, and the film barely refers to Arthurian legends or anything like history (something of a selling point in Cage’s previous collaboration with director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the National Treasure franchise).
This focus on Dave’s present includes a subplot that sometimes overtakes the main one. He's smitten with the girl he’s loved since elementary school, Becky (Teresa Palmer), now a fellow student at NYU and earnest college radio DJ. And so he keeps taking time out from that whole saving-the-world business to worry about where he might take her on a date, or how he might impress her without telling her his true identity.
This thinly sketched romance only distracts from the movie’s most fun relationship, the teacher-student bond between Dave and Balthazar. Like so many of these sorts of relationships (see: Kung Fu Panda, Karate Kid, or Akeelah and the Bee), the education is a function of trust and shared passions. Unfortunately, Dave and Balthazar spend too much time running around the city, separated, and not enough time discussing Balthazar’s magic pointy shoes and Dave’s questions about how science and magic can work together to help explain the world.
That said, the running around does offer some fun digital tricks, as when Balthazar changes a gargoyle into a huge metal bird that can fly, or when Hovarth turns a paper dragon in a Chinatown parade into a real, fire-breathing dragon, or sends Balthazar’s car through into a reverse world, where all the street signs are backwards.
Who’s Going To Love It
Baruchel fans will appreciate yet another version of the character he always plays, dorky, bright, and charming too. He and Cage make a good match, their similarly odd affects coming together in an easy rhythm.
But the film’s premise is less winning. Those who might remember the nine-minute “Sorcerer's Apprentice” sequence in Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia, will probably be disappointed when this film engineers a similar scene. The occasion is trumped up — Dave tries to cleanup his cavernous lab space before Becky arrives for a date — and so his efforts to set an assortment of brooms and mops into sloshy motion seem hurried and an afterthought. The mops, of course, end up flooding the floor and leaving the entire space in unsightly disarray. Without French composer Paul Dukas’ original music or Mickey, the scene is not nearly so wondrous.
What To Be Aware Of
The movie spends a good four or five minutes at its start explaining the background for Dave’s eventual meeting with his fate, via lots of expository narration by Balthazar. Younger viewers may grow restless with all this chatter, as well as the violence that sets up his ongoing conflict with Hovarth.
The violence through the film is loud and sometimes earth-shaking, like a mini Transformers rumble. The sorcerers spend a lot of time throwing spells at one another, filling the screen with digital electricity and force-fields. Most of these fights are loud and very busy on screen, with cars crashing or bodies tossed up against walls and through glass. Near the end, it appears that a main character might be dead, and so the survivors are very sad, briefly.
The bullying of young Dave (Jake Cherry) by his grade school classmates provides another kind of discomfort, as he does his best to fit in but only finds himself tormented. During these scenes, no adults intervene, which makes you wonder what the bus drivers, teachers, and parents are doing with their time.
If you’re a girl watching this movie, you might wonder as well why the girls — Becky and Veronica especially — have so little to do. As the boys cavort and test themselves, the girls tend to wait to be told what to do.
4 out of 10
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Monica Bellucci, Omar Benson Miller, Alice Krige
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films
US Premiere: July 14, 2010
UK Premiere: August 13, 2010