Sorcerer's Apprentice, The (United States, 2010)

July 14, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Poster

Perhaps it takes a movie like The Sorcerer's Apprentice to make one appreciate the level of creativity evident in the Harry Potter series. Distilled to their bare essences, both stories are remarkably similar: a modern-day kid discovers he has magical powers, learns from an established wizard how to use them, and must fulfill his destiny of saving the world from an evil sorcerer of great power. But a premise is only a starting point, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice quickly diverges from the path chosen by J.K. Rowling. The new Disney film is a mediocre exercise in plotting by numbers and proves (as if proof was necessary) that a lot more goes into crafting a compelling fantasy epic than spells and dragons. The Sorcerer's Apprentice may enchant a certain demographic, but that group is likely to be limited (pre-teen boys). The movie isn't so much bad as it is formulaic and uninspired. In some ways, that might almost be a worse sin.

The best part may be the prologue, which tells of the fall of Arthur's Merlin at the hands of Morgana (Alice Krige). Before dying, the great wizard bestows his knowledge upon his three disciples: Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Veronica (Monica Bellucci), and Horvarth (Alfred Molina). But Horvarth, after being spurned by Veronica for Balthazar, throws in his lot with Morgana. Balthazar manages to capture the spirits of Horvarth and Morgana in a doll, but at great cost - Veronica becomes trapped with them. Over the centuries, he seeks for Merlin's successor until coincidence brings them together in New York City. At their first meeting, Dave (Jay Baruchel) is only nine. Ten years later, when Balthazar returns to teach him the magic he will need to survive confrontations with Horvarth and Morgana, Dave is nineteen, and more interested in pursuing Becky (Teresa Palmer), the girl of his dreams, than in hanging out with a 1000-year-old sorcerer who tosses around fireballs, lightning bolts, and plasma globes. But Morgana is coming to destroy the world, so Dave has little choice in the matter.

The biggest problem with The Sorcerer's Apprentice is its complete and utter predictability. Only a few minutes into the production, it's possible to guess with uncanny accuracy not only how the story will end, but pretty much every step the plot will take to get us from the opening credits to the closing counterparts. Although it's true that good almost always triumphs over evil in fantasy movies of this sort, it's depressing to realize there will be no surprises along the way. The word "spoiler" doesn't really apply to something like The Sorcerer's Apprentice since this movie is nothing more than a patchwork assemblage of fantasy staples, tossed together with a throw-away action scene or two (there's an unremarkable car chase), sit-com quality jokes, and a lame teenage romance. But maybe it's the predictability that gives something like The Sorcerer's Apprentice its dubious charm. After all, you can hold a knowledgeable conversation about it (if there was ever a reason to do so) without having seen it.

For those who want to see the movie, there are few things to enjoy. First and foremost is the performance of Alfred Molina who, despite making The Sorcerer's Apprentice for the paycheck, exhibits his professionalism by giving a portrayal that is equal parts dastardly villainy and acerbic wit. Molina is not the only high-profile talent slumming here: Nicolas Cage, who has a history with director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, National Treasure 2), and Monica Bellucci have joined the gravy train. Less impressive is Jay Burchel, who's perfectly fine in light fare like She's out of My League, but lacks the range for something like this. When it comes to fantasy, he should stick to voice work (he is the lead in How to Train Your Dragon).

The film's climax, despite being as unsurprising as everything leading up to it, is presented with enough energy to make it entertaining. It's all about special effects and they are displayed with the technical adeptness one expects from a Jerry Bruckheimer production. There's also a rather strange homage to Fantasia in the middle of the film, complete with dancing mops and brooms. I kept expecting to see Mickey Mouse make an appearance. (This is a Disney film, but the only recognizable animated character to show up is Buzz Lightyear.)

It's tough to come down hard on The Sorcerer's Apprentice because it's too inconsequential to be worth a thorough thrashing. A few ten-year old boys will enjoy the pyrotechnics and the uncomplicated plot while the rest of us can either ignore the movie altogether or, if forced to play chaperone to an eager member of the target demographic, sleep through it and not miss a thing.

Sorcerer's Apprentice, The (United States, 2010)

Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 2010-07-14
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1