The Sorcerer’s Apprentice opens with a prologue set in 740 AD (director John Turteltaub missed a moment by not opening in 747 AD). We see Merlin’s apprentices Balthazar and Veronica rushing to save the old wizard from his arch-nemesis Morgana le Fay (man, there is a mythical woman whom literature and history have wronged greatly) and the betrayal of Merlin’s third apprentice, Horvath (played by Alfred Molina, who is, as per usual, better than the movie he’s in). Veronica sucks out Morgana’s soul but Morgana kills Veronica from the inside. Balthazar shoves them both inside a magic doll. Merlin dies, giving Balthazar final instructions, and Horvath has scampered off somewhere unscathed. This all happened in about three minutes and I watched in slack-jawed amazement. Not because it was cool, but because it was incredibly stupid. Nicolas Cage’s (Balthazar) ridiculous wig, the pedestrian concepts for Merlin and Morgana (bearded, wizened old man and snakey woman), the Renaissance Faire costumes and sets. It was so dumb. It played like a trailer for a Magic: The Gathering movie. I cross my heart, I sat there in the opening three minutes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and thought: This is probably what a movie for Magic: The Gathering would look like. And then, halfway through the movie, one of the characters is portrayed on a poster advertising Magic: The Gathering. I laughed so hard I almost cried.
The best thing I can say about The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is that Jay Baruchel (She’s Out Of My League, Tropic Thunder), as the “apprentice” half, has a wonderful, charming screen presence. He amused me, managing the blah material with a deft comic touch. He cranked the whine up in his voice, slouched around, and wiggled his eyebrows in all the right places, dragging the terrible writing up to mediocre levels by sheer dint of will. Nicolas Cage, the “sorcerer” part of the title, was actually halfway awake for this one. After years of sleeping through acting gigs, Cage appears to be remembering to actually open his eyes during a scene. This is now the third movie in a row where I haven’t actively loathed him (The Bad Lieutenant and Kick Ass being the other two). He and Baruchel had decent enough chemistry, and with better material, they would have been fun to watch. But The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was too dumb to really be enjoyable.
And that’s just it. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice wasn’t bad so much as it was terribly dumb. The script had three writers (Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, and Matt Lopez) and not one of them ever stopped to realize that combining magic and science would mean a huge amount of boring exposition for the audience to sit through. Apparently sorcerers use all of their brain, where everyone else uses just ten percent, and this allows sorcerers to see matter and manipulate it, and this is why Dave (Baruchel) is a physics genius. What? Why can’t Dave just be super smart? Why must there be an explanation for his mental acuity? And why are you explaining how magic works? It’s magic. That’s how it works. IT’S MAGIC.
There were so many dropped threads, too. One of the better ideas in the movie was that the sorcerers could command an object to come alive and serve them. Balthazar uses one of the eagles on the Chrysler building and Horvath makes the Wall Street bronze bull go on a rampage. So when the camera kept cutting to shots of gargoyles, I thought that surely they would spring to life and do something cool. But no, there were just a lot of transitional shots of gargoyles. Also, just as Balthazar takes on Dave, the “prime Merlinian” heir to Merlin’s powers, Horvath takes on Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell, Prince of Persa: The Sands of Time) as his evil apprentice. A Criss Angel-styled showman, Drake was abandoned by his original master and used what he knew of magic to make a life as an entertainer. He was actually pretty likeable, a neat foil to Dave’s goody-two-shoes routine, and he had some of the funnier lines in the script. So what happens to Drake? He’s killed off of course. God forbid an interesting character hangs around for a possible sequel. As for the love interest, Becky (Teresa Palmer, The Grudge 2), she’s too generic to be of any interest. Generically pretty, generically written, generically acted. I would have preferred someone feistier to balance out Dave’s neurotic routine. Actually, I would eliminate Becky all together and just have more of the Drake and Dave show. There was enough going on without a love interest subplot. Becky seemed to exist primarily to give Dave a reason to say to Balthazar, “Haven’t you ever…”
I will give The Sorcerer’s Apprentice props for some good visual effects. The dragon was cool, and the scene where Dave bewitches mops to clean for him was neat, although it was too short to really enjoy, unlike the original realized in Fantasia. I will deduct points, however, for the boringest fight scenes ever. Again, it’s magic. Why are you limiting yourself to fight sequences in which people stand across from one another in a circle and toss lightning bolts at each other? It’s magic! Have some fun—what’s the craziest thing you can think of? Do that. The best of the action sequences was Dave versus a dragon, and the worst was the final confrontation between Dave and Morgana. Your movie is set in New York City, your fight is between Merlin’s heir and one of the most powerful sorcerers ever, and it all comes down to people standing around a fountain, lobbing blue balls of fire around? I mean come on. That’s just dumb.
Which summarizes The Sorcerer’s Apprentice perfectly. It’s just dumb.