If you’ve seen Nicolas Cage and Jerry Bruckheimer’s two prior Disney collaborations, National Treasure and its sequel, then you already know what to expect from their latest endeavor, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Based on Disney’s own 1940 musical short of the same name – a segment from the film Fantasia, which itself is based on a centuries-old German poem, “Der Zauberlehrling” – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice depicts the relationship between a masterful wizard, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), and his apprentice, Dave Stuler (Jay Baruchel).
Dave, a somewhat nerdy, but good-hearted physics student at NYU, is perfectly content with his simple existence. He is working on an ambitious senior thesis project, and makes little time for a social life. Soon, his calm is disrupted when Balthazar, a sorcerer, enters the picture. A powerful evil wizard, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), is on the loose, and Dave – who we learn is a distant relative of Merlin the Wizard – is the only one who can defeat him. Balthazar, who is actually over 1,000 years old and was once a protégé of Merlin’s, introduces Dave to the world of sorcery and begins teaching him how to unleash the mystical powers within him.
The rest of the movie unfolds like most of these types do. Dave begins his training with very little skill and struggles to learn magic. Slowly, he begins to show hints of promise, but never prowess. A romantic subplot involving a classmate is introduced – because, well, why not? Eventually, the time comes when Dave’s abilities as a Sorcerer become the world’s only hope and he has to rise up the challenge – because that’s the way these things always seem to work, don’t they?
Boasting a relatively strong cast, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t lacking strong performances. The entire cast, especially Cage and Molina, is fully committed to their respective roles – far more committed than the script deserves. It’s clunky. Watching these actors, who have proved themselves talented in the past, so emphatically deliver such stiff, uninspired dialogue is at best disappointing, and at worst painful. Further, each character exists not as a genuine or believable entity, but as a caricature. There is no depth, subtlety or nuance to any of these roles – everything rests comfortably on the surface. These written shortcomings make it nearly impossible to connect with any of the personalities onscreen.
The lone exception is Jay Baruchel, who – much like he was in She’s Out of My League earlier this year – is the best part of an otherwise mediocre movie. He again uses his stock character: the lovable loser who is equal parts goofy and charming. We’ve seen it before, but for some reason, it still works here. I’m unsure if he’s got any range, or if he’s even very talented, but he is pretty watchable whenever onscreen. He’s even lucky enough to have been given the few lines that actually work in this movie.
The action scenes are competently shot, but, like the accompanying script, are depressingly generic. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before and better. The special effects are, again, fine, but add nothing in terms of inspiration or invigoration. There is nothing terribly wrong with any of this, but there’s nothing particularly right with it either.
It seems as though the filmmakers behind this movie strived to be nothing more than “good enough.” Unfortunately for them, simply not screwing up too badly isn’t “good enough” anymore – at least not for me.