‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ movie review: Nicolas Cage is a Disney wizard

The problem with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the use of magic: every other scene features wizards casting spells at each other, frequently represented by a glob of CGI. What’s at stake here? When someone points a gun at someone else in a movie, we know the ramifications of what will happen based on where they’re pointing it, how far they are from the target, and so on. Suspense is generated. 

When someone is pointing a special effect at someone, it’s the job of the director to make sure the audience knows the capabilities of the effect, what will happen if it hits the target, etc.

It’s a problem I had with some of the Harry Potter films, and (to a much lesser extent) the Lord of the Rings films. In The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Jon Turteltaub just doesn’t give us the required information. Scene after scene of competently filmed action loses any excitement because we don’t know what the spells will do, or how dangerous they are, or anything really. We just watch as Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina throw CGI back and forth.

I didn’t even know if these characters could die; one has to be locked up in The Grimhold for centuries rather than being killed, and when another one does die, it ain’t no thang to bring him right back to life. 

Watching someone play an RPG is more exciting: we know a spell takes away ‘x’ magic points from one side, and deals ‘y’ damage to the other. Subtraction. Basic mathematics holds more suspense than The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

It’s a shame, because I can see they were trying to have some fun here, in scenes where a paper dragon at a Chinatown parade becomes a real dragon, or a scene right out of Fantasia where our young hero tries to clean up by manipulating a bunch of mops like Mickey Mouse.

That young hero is Dave (Jay Baruchel), whose life was changed forever when he chased a wind-blown note into an oddities shop run by Balthazar (Cage). Complicated backstory: Balthazar was an apprentice to Merlin, who was murdered by Morgan Le Fey (Alice Krige), who was absorbed by Merlin’s other apprentice, Veronica (Monica Bellucci), who was then locked in The Grimhold, an inescapable prison, by Balthazar. 

Molina plays Horvath, another apprentice who double-crossed Merlin before being locked in The Grimhold (or something similar) for centuries until Dave accidentally lets him out. Phew. It took five (credited) writers to come up with this stuff.

So Balthazar and Horvath are fighting over The Grimhold, and poor Dave is caught in the middle as he becomes Balthazar’s apprentice. 

Unlike the magic spells, the writers have a grand time coming up with rules and regulations for all the politics: The Grimhold can only be opened under such-and-such conditions, Dave can only become a wizard when he can complete a certain task, Morgan Le Fey can only be separated from Veronica if certain criteria are met, and so on. Only problem: this is all arbitrary nonsense we couldn’t care less about.

At the center of all this is a sedated Nicolas Cage who seems to sleepwalk through the role, offering a quick quip every now and then to let us know he’s alive. It’s amazing he’s the same actor who was so wild and energetic and batshit crazy in last year’s excellent Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Baruchel, who I liked in Tropic Thunder and She’s Out of My League, starts to grow on the nerves halfway through this film.

Director Turteltaub previously brought us the National Treasure films, and a similar level of craftsmanship is on display here. Despite being 110 minutes long, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – devoid of almost any suspense – feels considerably longer.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *