I don’t understand why this movie isn’t five minutes long.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice begins with the story of the great wizard Merlin’s three apprentices, Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina), and Veronica (Monica Bellucci). When Balthazar and Veronica fall in love, the jealous Horvath betrays his friends and sides with an evil sorceress named Morgana (Alice Krige). One epic battle later: Merlin is dead; Veronica and Morgana have been banished into a mystical nesting doll; and Horvath and Balthazar find themselves on a centuries-long quest to find the heir to Merlin’s power.
This heir, it is believed, is the only one who can stop Morgana from escaping the Nesting Doll of Fate, and thus prevent her from destroying the world by raising an army of the living dead.
Did you catch all that? If so, you’re a quicker study than I, because most of that back-story was told in, literally, the first minute-and-a-half of the film—and not an ominous voice-over reading of fancy, serif scrolling text; no, this convoluted plot ramp-up was executed with action scenes. It was the sloppiest, most confusing opening I’ve seen since Jonah Hex, and I’m not giving Apprentice the advantage here.
Let me work back to my point about the movie’s run-time. With any half-way decent film about magic and spells or otherwise otherworldly story mechanics, there are always clearly defined rules governing the characters’ behavior. An unskilled Jedi, for example, will have difficulty swinging a lightsaber at a target droid; while a well-trained Sith Lord can choke out a general from across a conference room table.
In The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, it is established that Balthazar and Horvath are wizards of equal power. It’s also established that they can destroy anything with powerful plasma bolts, turn gargoyles into living metal eagles, and levitate a dresser drawer from across New York city to the top of the Empire State Building (among other things). So, I have to wonder why:
• It took them centuries to find Merlin’s heir (does it really take that long for such a powerful force to be reincarnated?)
• On learning that Merlin’s heir was alive in present day New York, why didn’t Horvath simply cast a choking spell on him at dinner or conjure up a bus to run him over; conversely, why didn’t Balthazar turn the heir’s skin into impenetrable, glisten diamonds, like those Twilight kids have?
• Why was neither wizard able to successfully hide and protect/destroy the Nesting Doll of Fate?
The simple, lazy answer to all of these questions (much like the answer to any question involving religion) is “Magic!”
The more involved answer is “It’s a Disney movie! Stop thinking so much!”
And that’s where the problems really start. The only way to enjoy this loud, hyper-caffeinated FX romp is to completely ignore a lifetime’s worth of cerebral development. If you can’t do this, you may find yourself asking:
• Why would Dave (Jay Baruchel), a nerdy physics major and the heir to Merlin’s powers, decide to throw his mystical dragon ring off the top of a building—knowing that the ring is the source of his power and a potential weapon in Horvath’s hands?
• How can the Nesting Doll of Fate be opened with a simple drop to the floor in one scene, and then require several levels of magical totems later on?
• When Balthazar decides that the safest place for Dave to hide from Horvath is in his campus laboratory, is he kidding?
• When Horvath asks a campus advisor where Dave’s laboratory is:
o Why does he need to do so?
o Why doesn’t he produce a fake ID when asked for credentials, instead of casting a spell on the young man? I mean, Horvath manifested a human form out of a pile of cockroaches; surely he can pull a laminated photo out of his pocket?
• Isn’t it kind of douche-y for Dave to ask his new girlfriend, Becky (Teresa Palmer) to climb to the top of a building and re-align a satellite dish when:
o Becky has a near-paralyzing fear of heights
o It’s physically impossible for her to do so
• When Morgana arises at the end for the big showdown (SPOILER!), and she faces off against Dave, Balthazar, and Veronica, why does she lose? Is it because:
o Veronica is too busy coddling Balthazar, who, for some reason, was disabled by the same kind of plasma bolt that’d he’d easily absorbed earlier
o Dave needs to stand on his own and use his NEWLY MANIFESTED POWERS to handily defeat THE MOST POWERFUL SORCERESS WHO’S EVER LIVED
Okay, I’ll stop at six questions. There are a ton more I could ask, but I’ve already given this movie more time than it deserves. These points are made more egregious by the fact that the screenplay roots the magical elements in science—and not one line of this movie holds up to scrutiny.
The point is that Nicolas Cage will be able to float on his Sorcerer’s Apprentice money for at least two years, and devote time to projects in which he actually gets to act (Bring on Bad Lieutenant 3, please!). Alfred Molina will hopefully take Cage’s cue and stop slumming it in popcorn land for awhile (I don’t know how many more times I can watch him play Dr. Octopus before I lose all respect for his choices). And this film’s profits will help convince a whole new generation of screenwriters, directors, and producers that family movies can be successful without having to be any good.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about the Jay Baruchel problem. In the last six months, I’ve endured him in She’s Out of My League, How to Train Your Dragon, and now this; it’s a trifecta of irritation. I have nothing against him as an actor, except when he plays to his looks. You’ve seen him: a skinny, awkward-looking doofus with the constant expression of someone who’s just ejaculated in his swim trunks. Lately, he’s played the nerd who needs to learn serious confident lessons in order to get the gilr/save the world.
At issue is the fact that he plays the same character the same way in every movie. Listening to him talk, as I’ve mentioned before, is like listening to a third-rate, stuttering Eugene Levy. If he’s supposed to be the relatable protagonist, I fear those in the audience that find him relatable.
Strangely enough, he wasn’t always like this. Think back to his role in Tropic Thunder. He was awkward, yes, but only in the context of being the only level-headed actor in a troupe of bona fide head cases. He spoke confidently, and knowledgeably, and came off as someone who looked nothing at all like himself. Baruchel’s latest roles suggest that he’s striving for marketability by giving audiences exactly what they’d expect from looking at him on a movie poster. It’s profiling, and it’s wrong.
But that’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice for you: a half-considered idea, fueled by un-invested stars that runs an hour-and-fifty-six minutes too long.