The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Two and a half stars
Rating: PG (for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language)
Having seen The Last Airbender gross untold millions despite the worst reviews in many a year, I confess myself discouraged at the prospect of reviewing The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This is a better film, which is faint praise, but it’s becoming clear that every weekend brings another heavily marketed action “comedy” that pounds tens of millions out of consumers before evaporating.
I use the word “consumer” deliberately. This genre doesn’t require an audience in the traditional sense. It attracts children and young teenagers with the promise of cinematic fast food: sugar and caffeine, no nutrition.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is in small part inspired by the famous sequence in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940) where Mickey Mouse does battle with bewitched brooms and buckets while Leopold Stokowski conducts the famous music by Paul Dukas.
But most consumers have likely never heard of the music — or of Fantasia, for that matter.
Nicolas Cage is the star, playing Balthazar, a good magician who has long held captive the forces of magical evil.
A prologue explains how the Arthurian magician Merlin (James A. Stephens) warred with the evil magicians Morgana (Alice Krige) and Horvath (Alfred Molina) and sealed them and their despicable minions in the deepest interior of a nested doll.
If Morgana and Horvath escape, the planet will be doomed.
As the story opens, 10-year-old Dave (Jake Cherry) chases a love note as it blows through the mail slot of a curiosity shop . This shop is presided over by Balthazar, who instantly intuits that young Dave may have the potential to become the long-awaited Prime Merlinian — the great magician who can vanquish Morgana’s forces for once and all.
The purpose of this sequence is crystal clear: It’s to establish the protagonist as a kid, before he becomes the movie’s hero (Jay Baruchel). That way grade-schoolers will identify with 20-year-old Dave. Others can identify with Balthazar, who is played by Cage with his usual energy.
It gets a chuckle early in the movie when Young Dave asks Balthazar how he knows something, and Cage spins and snarls: “Because I can read minds!” Next question?
Balthazar informs Dave he is The One and commands mighty magical powers. Balthazar then has to leave his shop briefly and asks Dave to guard the Prison Doll. Naturally, Dave opens it and releases the evil magicians. Balthazar should know better than to ever tell the hero of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie about the one thing he should never, never, ever, ever do.
The rest is all centered on special effects. The director, Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) and his several writers devise some clever set pieces, such as a dragon in a Chinatown parade that starts breathing smoke and fire, and it’s up to Balthazar and Dave to vanquish the villains. I also liked it when Balthazar brought to life a steel eagle on top of the Chrysler Building and flew around on its back.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a perfectly typical example of its type, professionally made and competently acted. Imagine a graph with one line indicating the consumer’s age and the other line representing his degree of enjoyment. These lines would intersect at about the age of Young Dave.