Disney and Jon Turteltaub really do deserve each other; Nic Cage is just the frilly bow atop that lucrative package.
Maybe The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — and its $210 million in earnings — owes a lot of its success to Great Marketing Comrade Disney Machine. Still, it’s remarkable a lead actor with as dubious a recent track record as Cage still holds blockbuster drawing power; or was at least still chummy enough with Bob Iger. While the rest of the world waits for a third adventure with Ben Gates n’ Friends on yet another generic paranoid fantasy fueled by history/crack-cocaine, Disney, Turteltaub and Jerry Bruckheimer went and made something else to occupy their time. Don’t worry. It’s just as chemically engineered for that same “lowest common denominator” audience.
There’s very little worth remembering about 2010’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, despite Cage’s frazzly homeless wizard, Balthazar Blake. By any measure, Cage’s performance is tragically replaceable by… well, any other actor willing to don a fedora, crusty overcoat, and the emo arm-socks of a burned out Anthony Kiedis. Balthazar flits in and out around New York City, spouting random gibberish, spellcasting tips, and a pretty unessential mythology, and all of this mainly to his sole audience member, bumbling physics wiz Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel).
Both National Treasure-ses were informed by a sketchy understanding of American history: the Templar treasure, the traditional passing of the President’s Book, or even– WHY AM I NOT FORGETTING ANY OF THIS STUFF?! Because of those Masonic references, a hefty expositional dump is needed in the original and a not-so-smooth Civil War flashback in its sequel. Well The Sorcerer’s Apprentice wants a prologue too, you guys. There’s a prophecy that states Dave will become the “Prime Merlinian,” a Dalai Lama-styled magical messiah who will destroy the evil Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) and his nefarious and notably absent mistress, Morgana Le Fay. National Treasure demanded the paranoid conspiracies and hysterical rants because they furthered equally absurd stories, stories that necessitated clues and hints from that history. Here, Cage and Molina are little more than mouthpieces with familiar faces, dropping knowledge bombs wherever they float off to, often forgetting that so little of this crap is ultimately important — or interesting.
Baruchel’s Dave Stutler represents both the best and worst parts of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — and that’s putting his awesome first name aside. While we’re busy drowning in Cage’s tedium of magical Han Dynasty urns and the nesting doll mechanics of a “Grimhold” soul prison, Baruchel lends a hesitant dryness to Dave’s fish-out-of-cauldron predicament, and it helps to lighten a lot of the sparkly banality. Really, Baruchel’s “that guy” from every group project you’ve ever done, the dude who only seems to be there to crack jokes at his own ineptitude, and Stutler’s ineptitude spans beyond learning magic. He’s desperately trying to secure the romantic wiles of Amber Heard clone, Teresa Palmer. The film’s menage a trois of screenwriters attempt a weak parallel between Dave and Balthazar, uniting the student and teacher through their romantic pursuits — Cage also wants to free fellow sorceress Monica Bellucci from the Grimhold’s powers. Love conquers all. Magic, evil, predictable writing.
Those with a passing familiarity of 1940’s Fantasia surely remember the iconic rendering of Paul Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” complete with a Mickey Mouse in crimson robe and pointy hat. Turteltaub offers more than a knowing wink at the sequence, and one that goes way beyond giving Dave a red hoodie:
It’s kind of fun, but when inserted halfway through the scene, it comes off as the film excusing its own existence, like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice wants to build itself around this one moment. Just add some steampunk, a dash of Diagon Alley and a lot of One Republic. A LOT.
Then again, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t trying to be anything novel or unique. The plasma blasts and fireballs are kinda cool at first, but the showdowns devolve into live-action Dragon Ball Z re-enactments — the long, drawn out parts. And the action is as paint-by-numbers as the plotting: Dave’s gonna get the girl and learn to cast spells without the help from that pewter dragon ring. Balthazar will learn to trust his apprentice. Morgana and Horvath will be destroyed through Dave combining newfound powers with his advanced physics acumen. You can close your eyes and predict most of this on your own. Magical prophecy? Maybe a blueprint.
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