For a movie called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, there isn’t a whole lot of magic on display. Sure there are the requisite plasma bolts and mythical creatures and the occasional walking mop, but all of this is viewed through a filter of terribly unimaginative filmmaking. A couple of charmingly compelling performance save The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from being a complete drag, but in an age where movies are expanding, the film almost feels like a relic.
Ages ago, Balthazar Blake (Nicholas Cage) was tasked by his master Merlin to find the prime Merlinian, the destined successor of the great wizard, who is meant to save the world from the evil sorceress Morgana. In the twenty-first century, Blake finds the Prime Merlinian in insecure physics nerd David (Jay Baruchel). Now, timid, unassuming David is told that he has a greater destiny, but all he wants is to live a normal life and maybe win the heart of his long time crush Becky. But David is soon drawn into his destiny as evil sorcerer Horvath (Alfred Molina) works toward resurrecting Morgana, in so doing destroying the world.
The movie follows the template of the destined hero pretty tightly. Prophecies are always problematic in stories, because they basically tell us how the story is supposed to end. The movie doesn’t really try to cast doubt on David’s role as Prime Merlinian, so there isn’t really a whole lot of suspense throughout the picture. In fact, there are times when the movie relies on the prophecy angle to move the story forward. The script as a whole doesn’t really seem to be concerned about developing a plot or characters that will keep the audience’s attention. For that, they’ve simply built big, special effects heavy setpieces.
In the hands of a more skilled or imaginative director, that might actually have worked. But Jon Turteltaub just doesn’t have the chops to really pull off the film’s magical potential. The film is really inert, its big action setpieces all shot too close and too fast to really have much of an effect. Amazingly, even the sorcerer battles look boring. Turteltaub shoots the climax by cutting between mid shots of the combatants, never really zooming out far enough to show the supposed scale of the battle. Not that there’s much to look at, honestly. Most of the film’s action is really just people throwing CGI projectiles at each other.
The film is made bearable by its cast. I probably rave too much about Jay Baruchel in my reviews, but I really do believe that the kid is supremely talented. He’s just so easy to root for. Nicholas Cage fills his niche yet again playing the sorcerer Balthazar. It’s less unhinged than I would like from Cage, but it’s an entertaining performance nonetheless. Alfred Molina plays his villain with a nonchalant charm that’s pretty easy to watch as well. Together, these three provide the charm that the film simply doesn’t have.
There are six credited writers for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It is apparently one of those films that have been floating around in development limbo for years, the script being passed from one writer to another until the corporate masters decide that the story is mainstream enough to work. The process inevitably kills all chance of a movie having any sort of real personality, and what came out here was just a half-baked American version of Harry Potter, with just a tinge of science thrown in. With Turteltaub at the helm, the film really didn’t have much of a chance of being anything more than disposable special effects.