It’s the morning after the night you can’t remember and, stumbling into the kitchen, your eye catches the Sunday paper. Fuzzy eyeballs and an addled memory swap the digits and read the year as 2001.
Confused and scared, you decide that the best way to rule out any time travelling mishaps would be to check the latest cinema releases. The first film you come across features a dorky young wizard, who lives blissfully unaware of his latent abilities. What’s more, he’s the Chosen One, destined to master his craft until he has the power to defeat an ancient enemy. Time to search your cupboards for Doc Brown.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice makes a valiant leap for the tyro wizard bandwagon as it leaves town with Harry Potter at the reins. It might be nearly ten years since the bespectacled conjuror first erupted onto our screens, but that hasn’t stopped Disney from cranking out their own magical adventure.
They are attempting to replicate the trick pulled off so successfully by Pirates Of The Caribbean, turning one of their story-less properties into a full length feature. Mickey Mouse’s mop and water disaster in Fantasia is one of the world’s most famous animated shorts and provides the very loose inspiration for this new picture.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice actually bears very little resemblance to any of the Potter films, beyond its main themes. Titular apprentice Dave (Jay Baruchel) is a 20-year-old college student, who has convinced himself that a youthful brush with ancient warlocks Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) and Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) is a figment of his imagination. Shocks abound then, when Blake and Horvath emerge from a magical pot to search for Dave and the Russian nesting doll he was given to safeguard.
The doll contains trapped spirits of evil wizards captured by Black, including Arthurian mega-bitch Morgana le Fey. With Horvath trying his best to free his incarcerated master, Blake must find the “Prime Merlinian” and train him until he is powerful enough to see off the impending apocalypse.
It’s a classic good vs. evil tale, with a layer of quickly sketched fiction spread on top. There’s nothing exciting or original about the mythos, but it provides a functional backdrop against which Dave can be schooled in the art of sorcery.
You probably already have a pretty good idea of how his training goes. Plucked out of physics geekdom by a disappointingly restrained Cage, he resists and fumbles his way through lessons in a series of montages. It’s all very predictable fare, but Baruchel artfully mines that doltish shtick we’ve seen him master as a supporting player in the likes of Million Dollar Baby and Tropic Thunder. His wobbly nerdisms don’t quite mesh with the brief periods of melodrama, but for the most part he plies his loveable charm to good effect.
In a film full of corny magical guff, the most effective subplot is the romance that blossoms between Dave and Becky (Teresa Palmer). National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub spends a decent amount of time on the growth of their relationship, letting it develop in a realistic fashion.
Palmer does a good job of being both pretty and likeable, while Baruchel’s geeky charms are even more effective in a realistic setting. Their believable affection is undermined in the final scenes by the strange pacing that blights much of the film, but by then it has built up enough romantic credibility to sustain us until the closing credits.
I am constantly amazed how we English manage to get through the day without destroying each other. I have trouble finding the time to write in between world domination attempts and kitten murdering. If you’d somehow forgotten that the English were made of pure evil, Alfred Molina’s Maxim Horvath is on hand to remind you of our immorality. He does a decent job playing the one note baddy-wizard, but his character is a sub par version of the kids flick evildoer you’ve seen a thousand times before.
Happily, there’s a brand new English stereotype, inspired by Russell Brand’s Hollywood success. Don’t worry, celebrity magician Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell) is still a bad guy, just a preening, inept one.
Aside from the effective love story, the film is mainly composed of training sessions and the occasional showdown between Team Good and Team Evil. The special effects whizz and pop impressively, but there’s not much excitement in their encounters.
The story is inevitably building towards a showdown between the Apprentice and the evil master, but it takes a very bumpy route to get there.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has been ruthlessly pruned, resulting in a film whose pieces don’t fit together properly. To take one example: there are many scenes of Dave struggling to master the spells Balthazar teaches him, and as we approach the grand finale, he still seems a long way from competency. Then, without warning, he is suddenly skilful enough to hold his own against one of the most powerful sorcerers in history.
Jay Baruchel tries valiantly to pump some weight into this throwaway magical romp and when the film leans on his acting abilities, most notably in scenes with Teresa Palmer, it hits its most effective peaks. But when the lame fantasy story and a muted Nicolas Cage are in full effect, there’s little to get excited about.
With more sensible editing or an increased runtime, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice could have been decent family fun, instead it is only well intentioned.