Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Without Jay Baruchel’s incessant whining, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice would have been at least a mindlessly amusing thrill ride. Baruchel ripped the heart right out of this movie, and left pieces of it scattered all over the set. Baruchel plays Dave, this story’s Luke Skywalker; a young man, bored and discouraged with his average life, until centuries-old wizard Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) bursts into his life, tells him he has special powers and he has to save the world, and starts training him. But he’s everything a Luke Skywalker character shouldn’t be. He’s whiney, he’s wishy-washy, he’s boring, he’s just plain annoying.

I was optimistic enough to hope that superstar Cage would prop up the movie where Baruchel let it drop, but I’m afraid Cage has passed his prime. What’s more, his costume seems a bit derivative. Take a look at him below,  next to a picture of Chicago wizard Harry Dresden and tell me you don’t see some resemblance.

The only cast member that carries his part particularly well is Alfred Molina as Maxim Horvath, the evil wizard bent on world domination. Horvath has adopted the modus operandi of a late 19th century British gentleman, complete with bowler hat and cane. Molina slips seamlessly into the role, infusing it with Horvath’s sinister nature.  He commands the respect that every great megalomaniac does. Toby Kebell rounds out the cast as his henchman, Drake Stone. Aside from Horvath, the only interesting character is a 17th century witch who gets a whopping ten seconds of screen time. Talk about disappointing.

Molina and Cage have some impressive fight sequences. Once again, Apprentice seems to be at its best, when it copies The Dresden Files. A good, visceral punch-out with a little magic thrown in is, in my opinion, the best thing a wizard story can have. Too much magic, and it starts to get ridiculous. This would have been a better movie with more of these and fewer over-the-top scenes.

Blake brings this statue to life and rides it early in the movie.

Apprentice is a bit too eager to show off its special effects budget. Right from the word go, we get an overbearing score crammed into our ears, in-your-face magic battles, and statuary turning into monsters that tear skyscrapers to pieces. The movie seldom pauses to build the plot or get to know the characters. It’s too bad, because the climactic battle is actually pretty intense, rather inventive, and very effective dramatically. It would have made the perfect bang to finish the movie with if it had been preceded by two hours of subtlety and development. Sadly, being preceded by a string of even bigger bangs, the relative pop at the end seems flat and empty.

Most of what happens is not only cliché, but painfully derivative, ripping off other movies and not adding anything original. When a clerk tells Horvath “I’m going to need to see your faculty identification,” Horvath waves his wand and says “You don’t need to see my faculty identification.” Drake then delivers the line “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” but it’s too late; half the audience has already said it. More annoying yet, when Dave is having a hard time cleaning up his lab space, he uses his new powers to make brooms and mops come alive. Guess what happens next. If you said “he can’t get them to stop and he nearly drowns, right before Balthazar saves the day,” you get a cookie. This scene copies the other Sorcerer’s Apprentice, to a tee, using the same music and even including a silhouette shot of Dave chopping up a broom with an ax. And it does nothing to advance the story. It’s just forced into the middle of the movie for its own sake – a classic big-lipped alligator moment.

Apprentice has a few things going for it. The special effects are cool, the action is cool, and the story, while bland, isn’t painful or preachy. It’s a pretty safe family film, and if you have kids, you could probably use Apprentice to shut them up for 90 minutes. You will be quite ready to leave before you see the credits, however. Ultimately, this is one more example of how the world’s biggest budget won’t guarantee a good movie. They couldn’t spend enough to hide the fact that Apprentice is simply one more re-hash of all the standard clichés clumsily thrown together, with none of them done well.

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