THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (PG): On General Release Wednesday 11th August
When Nicolas Cage is good, he’s good but when he’s bad he’s awful. Occasionally he hits with thespian jackpots like Adaptation but frequently his horsey gormlessness is a blight on a good movie. Bewilderingly, he’s actually pretty good in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice but it’s not enough to lift the film from the ranks of uninspiring throwaway mediocrity.
The film opens in 740AD in England where the great wizard Merlin and his three apprentices, Horvath (Alfred Molina), Balthazar (Cage) and Veronica (Monica Belucci) are squaring off against the forces of the evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige).
Betrayed by Horvarth, Merlin is killed but Veronica manages to sacrifice herself so that she and Morgana can be captured by Balthazar in the Grimhold – a kind of Russian Doll that holds souls.
Flash forward to 2000 and a kid called Dave is bumbling around an antique store. Balthazar recognises him as “The Prime Merlinian” – the prophesised successor to Merlin who could finally destroy Morgana, but before you can say Abracadabra Dave clumsily knocks over the Grimhold and releases Horvath. A battle ensues and the two mages end up being locked away in a Chinese urn for 10 years.
In 2010, Dave, now at university, is a physics geek and predictably socially inept (hardly a stretch for Baruchel as he specialises in this role – She’s Out Of My League, Million Dollar Baby). He quickly gets apprenticed to Balthazar but has to make a tough choice between untold cosmic powers and cuddling up to a girl who he was rejected by 10 years ago but he recently re-met.
What follows is a string of CGI set pieces linked together by a paper thin script and characters you couldn’t care less about. Plot holes in films are often humorously explained away by the phrase “a wizard did it” – but in this case, that’s actually often true – the thing about magic is that it can be used as a convenient reason for your film not making any sense.
And for a film which is ostensibly about how incredible magic could be, it displays a complete dearth of imagination. There are promising scenes which should have been fully of zing: a segment where a dragon ravishes Chinatown should have been the film’s centrepiece but ends up being a bit of throwaway CGI tat; Dave’s training with Balthazar could have been a creative wonderland but is predictably limited to learning to do blue fireballs like a Street Fighter character being instructed by Zorro.
Arthur C Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice takes this to heart. There’s an insistence that magic and physics are the same thing and because of Dave’s facility with electricity, he’s also a dab hand with the occult forces. This leads to a bewilderingly anticlimactic finale involving the alignment of satellite dishes of and a sickening scene where Dave woos his new love Becky with musical Tesla coils.
There’s also a five minute recreation of the scene from Fantasia where Dave animates a bunch of mops to clean up his lab with disastrous results – the only reference to the source material which feels pointless and slotted in as a last minute afterthought.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a piece of throwaway cinematic trash, hardly surprising when you consider it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer who almost specialises in big, dumb commercial films. But while his big hits had some wit and life to them (notably Pirates Of The Caribbean), this is just a lifeless, limp and uninspiring summer dud. If magic is this dull, stay in school kids.