Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Monica Belucci, Alice Krige
Plot: A sorcerer (Cage) tries to fight off dark wizards attempting to resurrect a Dark Lord, while searching for the prophesised hero who will inherit Merlin’s powers.
There is something very run-of-the-mill of this live action adaptation of a chief segment in Fantasia. A random, socially-awkward kid finds out that he is set to inherit divine powers, when a brooding but well-meaning hero needs his help to overcome an evil conqueror. Seeing as this is a loose reworking in every meaning of the word (other than one scene where Baruchel uses his magic to mop a floor, there really isn’t too many references to the original Disney), it makes the fact that there is little imagination on show here a little hard to ignore.
But that does mean that Turteltaub can put extra effort into the fun element. The plot is so simple that the director whizzes along at break-neck speed, not worried about people losing track of where we are. It makes for a very disorientating opening. First, we are in the Dark Ages, where Nicolas Cage (plus loads of other big names, who don’t really feature in this film at all), has to protect Merlin from some nasty dark wizards. Then we are fast-forwarding through time, as an immortal Cage spends centuries searching for the chosen one. He finds him in the case of a ten-year-old schoolboy, who is summoning up the courage to ask out a girl at school. The encounter goes wrong, releases Alfred Molina’s villain figure into the world and all that really happens is that the schoolboy embarrasses himself in front of his class and is relegated to the class weirdo. Then we fast-forward another then years (I know, dizzying right?), to the grown-up schoolboy, Baruchel, going about his daily nerd life. Meanwhile, we find out that Cage and Molina in their fight, trapped themselves in another dimension for ten plot-convenient years, and are now ready to wrap Baruchel back into their magical battle for the universe. It is a heavy amount of exposition to get your head around, but when we settle on this point, the broad themes make it easy to catch up. Cage is a good wizard, Molina is a bad wizard and Baruchel is the likeable, awkward hero who is going to get caught up in the mess. To help make it even more accessible, Teresa Palmer joins the cast, as a girl way out of Baruchel’s league, yet one who is probably going to end up kissing him at some point. And, in fairness, while this is predictable film-making, it does somewhat entertain. The CGI is blatant and noisy, but not distractingly so. In fact, as Baruchel finds himself taking on a Chinese dragon brought to life by dark magic, we get a glimpse of the movie The Sorceror’s Apprentice is trying to be. Fun, flashy and anchored by two strong performances. One from Molina, who chews the scenery but, in a way that feels appropriate for a film of this stature, and Baruchel. Baruchel understands his place in all this and uses his natural charisma to poke sarcastic holes in the story. He almost seems aware he is in a Superhero Origin story 101 and his commentary of events keeps things amusing enough.
But there is a better film to be made here. For one, there is a sense that The Sorceror’s Apprentice wanted to be about 45 minutes longer. In wasting time with exposition early on, the later half of the film feels rushed. The longer Molina spends with a Macguffin artefact, he gets a new demonic henchman to send after Cage. It is a fun idea, keeping the set-pieces feeling fresh and dynamic. Only, there isn’t really enough time to do what Turteltaub is clearly aiming to do. One of the henchmen is Abigail Williams, the real life accused witch, who looks badass at first sight, but as soon as she has completed what the plot needs her to do, is written out so quickly, you assume there is a scene on the cutting room floor where she actually got to do something quite awesome. The same is tragically also true for Alice Krige’s evil Dark Lord, who the movie spends its running time bigging up, only for the final fight to feel quite methodical and short-lived. Turteltaub seems to have lost his film in the edit. There are other problems, of course, mainly Nicolas Cage. He seems to be phoning it in here, his stoic hero never dropping his poker face. Cage as an actor has a fair share of problems, but laziness was never one of them. If anything, some over-the-top pantomime charisma might have helped drag the Sorceror’s Apprentice back into a positive light, but some run-of-the-mill acting cuts that hope off before it can even begin. This is a genre with many entries, meaning that stacked against the competition, The Sorceror’s Apprentice is a movie, you are likely never going to get around to watching.
Final Verdict: An average storyline hampered by uneven pacing, The Sorceror’s Apprentice isn’t a bad movie, yet one that feels like it has missed what it was aiming for.