Nicolas Cage plays the Sorcerer and Jay Baruchel plays Mickey (if Mickey were playing Raising Arizona-era Nicolas Cage) in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a live-action adaptation, sorta, of that one segment from Fantasia.
Only, whereas that was whimsical and short, this is the opposite.
Back in ye olden times, Balthazar (Cage) and Horvath (Alfred Molina) were both sorcerers who were apprentices to Merlin (James A. Stephens). But there were betrayals, strong words (probably including “knave” and “dastardly”) and Horvath defected to Morgana (Alice Krige), a powerful sorceress. Morgana defeated Merlin but before she could carry out her villainous plans to take over the world, she was trapped in a wooden nesting doll with Veronica (Monica Bellucci), another Merlin acolyte. Over the centuries, Balthazar trapped other evil wizards in the doll, creating layer upon layer, until finally he trapped Balthazar. But then, in 2000, a young nerd named Dave (Jake Cherry) stumbled into Balthazar’s dusty antiques store and Balthazar realized he was the Prime Merlinian, which then had me trying to remember where the Prime Meridian was for a good chunk of the movie (Greenwich in the UK — through the Royal Observatory, should you be across the pond and looking for a geeky day trip).
The Prime Merlinian is not the point of 0 longitude but the sorcerer whose coming is foretold (isn’t it always) and who will possess the power to defeat Morgana once and for all. (Trapped in a doll is not permanent defeat — it’s a kind of Phantom Zone stasis.) Dave is that sorcerer, Balthazar decides after Merlin’s special dragon ring comes to life in Dave’s presence. But before any Hogwarts applications can be filled out, Dave accidentally breaks the outside layer of the nesting doll and frees Horvath. Traumatized by the ensuing attempts at smiting, Dave goes running out of the shop with crazy rants about wizards and quickly labels himself class freak. Meanwhile Balthazar and Horvath are trapped in yet another piece of antiquarian knick-knackery for 10 years. When they emerge, physics student Dave (Jay Baruchel) is in college and Balthazar must convince him to become his apprentice. Only with Dave’s help can Balthazar stop Horvath from unleashing Morgana and her plans for hell on earth.
Also, Dave is trying to impress a girl — Becky (Teresa Palmer).
That a majority of the above plot summary is from the first 10 or so minutes should give you some sense of the significant amount of detail crammed into this story. Horvath and Balthazar have an additional layer of backstory that we come to find out and the movie also has a structure for its brand of magic — the vibration level of atoms and powers harnessed with hand waves and flamey circles that help give us several scenes of sorcery training. This much detail isn’t inherently bad — I’m not sure “sorcerers exist, as does magic” would be enough to carry such a story. But this is a lot of detail and backstory and mythology for a movie that ultimately isn’t particularly exciting or innovative. This isn’t The Last Airbender; The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t a train wreck. It’s just strangely uneventful. Stuff explodes, stuff breaks, there are wizard-on-wizard fights to rival the Harry Potter movies — but it all felt rather lukewarm. The story works OK enough for me to follow it, just not quite well enough for me to care.
This feeling of “eh” extends to the characters as well. Baruchel is kind of fun — whether intentionally or not, the movie does a few cute visual things that bring to mind both apprentice Mickey Mouse and a young Nicolas Cage. And though an aggressive whiner, he isn’t an annoying reluctant hero — he may actually be one of the better nerd-as-badass creations in a while. But he doesn’t exactly shine either — something about both his and Cage’s performance is just a little too twitchy, too goofy.
Molina could show up and play a decent villain with five minutes notice — it looks like he got maybe six minutes here. His Horvath gets his own apprentice about halfway through the movie — a David Blaine-ish stage magician named Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell). The movie has a bit of fun with him but then lets it drop. It feels like any time the movie approaches some original moment of cleverness it lets go.
This isn’t a horrible kid (older kid, probably, at least 8 and up I’m guessing) adventure, but nearly two hours of CGI plasma balls and glowy dragon rings still doesn’t provide as much artistry as the cartoon short. C
Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language. Directed by Jon Turteltaub and written by Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an hour and 51 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Walt Disney Pictures.