Of late, Nicolas Cage’s performances have been infinitely more entertaining the more ludicrous the characters and the sillier the stories. Luckily, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice manages not to take itself too seriously and resultantly Cage is more likeable as the wily wizard who must save the world. Jay Baruchel also adopts his role well, providing enough one-liners that some of them are bound to get the laughs they pursue. Though the story and the concepts don’t break new ground, clever scenes of sorcery and some bouts of humorous parody keep the repetitive parts in the background. The nerdy outcast as the hero is also easier to applaud than the overly serious fish-out-of-water that plagues most films of the genre. Just make sure that while the sorcerers are using 100% of their brains to cast powerful magic spells, you’re using as little of your brain as possible, so you don’t over-analyze the events unfolding onscreen.
Thousands of years ago, the great Merlin was betrayed and killed by the evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige) with the help of Horvath (Alfred Molina), one of the wizard’s own apprentices. Though unable to save him, Merlin’s faithful students Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and Veronica (Monica Bellucci) managed to seal the traitorous spellcasters in a magical nesting doll – but at a terrible price. Veronica is also imprisoned within the container until Balthazar can find the Prime Merlinian – Merlin’s successor and the only sorcerer with the power to defeat Morgana. In present day New York City (initially the year 2000), Balthazar’s search might finally be over when he discovers Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), a nerdy physics enthusiast who is able to wear Merlin’s ring. Taking the reluctant student as his apprentice, Balthazar teaches him the art and science of sorcery to prepare him for an epic battle against the forces of darkness.
If it wasn’t enough to have to establish so much backstory and mythology, all wrapped up in a lengthy opening narration with medieval swords and sorcery imagery, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice also wants to tell us a love story. Two love stories, to be exact, as Balthazar is in love with the imprisoned Veronica, and only has patience for Dave’s lovelorn preoccupation because of his own suppressed feelings for his fellow sorceress. Becky (Teresa Palmer) is the lucky lady that catches the eye of Dave, and he stereotypically woos her with his vast knowledge of radio transmissions and electricity conductors. Her role isn’t necessary, but it gives Cage and Baruchel plenty of opportunities for comedy. It falls apart toward the conclusion, however, when she blindly and unconvincingly follows the clumsy boy around town to conquer the almighty witch and save the world from the predictably generic enslavement of mankind through the conjuring of the living dead. At times the film is too focused on developing their relationship than properly demonstrating Dave’s training.
Star Wars and Indiana Jones are both momentarily spoofed, which is fitting considering the supernatural elements that mix Harry Potter, the Force, and Fantasia. Balthazar comments that civilians mustn’t know about magic due to the complications that could arise, yet throughout the film no one is afraid to display their powers in front of regular people. The take on Fantasia’s famous Mickey Mouse and Yen Sid segment is actually the cleverest bit, the use of plasma bolts and ricochets to the groin muster cheap laughs, the use of contemporary car chases stirred into the fantasy is genuinely thrilling, and Balthazar’s 350-year-old rawhide trench coat is too macho for words. Ultimately, these types of magic-oriented fictions are only limited by the imagination of the creators, since there are no preconceived rules and every conflict can be solved on the spot by some contrived definition of sorcerer powers. The fun is determined by how smartly they can hide this fact – but here everything only happens exactly the way it should in a Disney movie.- The Massie Twins