The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Starring Jay Baruchel, Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell
Release date: July 14, 2010
I’ll save you the suspense. Despite the fact that I don’t find it a particularly good movie, I liked The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Don’t mistake that for indecision. I think people’s ability to compartmentalize their taste in movies has a direct impact on their enjoyment of movies as entertainment. Saying a movie is bad isn’t the same as saying you didn’t like it. For as evolved as a lot of our taste in movies have become, there are still those inexplicable few that slip through that we like despite every inclination not to. I grew up watching some terrible movies and liked quite a lot of them. Some I still do. I know they are bad, but there is more that goes into liking a movie than knowing it was well made. Nostalgia, perspective, fandom, all of these things can also shape our experience outside of the quality of the film itself. We just like what we like and sometimes there is just no explanation for having a good time watching a movie. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is that experience for me.
The setup happens thusly. Merlin used to have three apprentices, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), and Veronica (Monica Bellucci). Like any other multi-gendered triangle of power, there is bound to be trouble in paradise at some point. As if on cue, Horvath joins the forces of evil lead by the evil sorceress Morgana, and attempts to overthrow the whole operation. During a battle, Veronica sacrifices herself for the greater good absorbing Morgana’s soul and her own and trapping them in a nesting doll. Before Merlin dies, he gives a dragon ring to Balthazar that will choose his successor. Of course the successor would be a fumbling NYU physics student, because, well I guess it’s just supposed to be more interesting that way.
I’ll say again for the record, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t great, and I could spend all day talking about what was wrong with it and why it shouldn’t be recommended. Except that all that was of no consequence. Faults and all, it’s just fun. The dusty corners of a thesaurus couldn’t help me describe it any better. The story isn’t terribly inventive, unless you’ve never seen a story featuring reluctance to be great or the hero that doesn’t know he’s supposed to be. But you probably have.
Sometimes it’s not about what is happening on screen but what could have and didn’t. Restraint seems like an out of place descriptive to use, but it applies. Cage is infamous for hamming when he seems to be unable to decide how to play certain roles, and Jay Baruchel isn’t what you would call a strong leading man. For that matter, he is ground zero for the current standard in whiny, endearing nerd characters. In both cases they do just enough with the characters they are given to serve their purpose and allow the fun they appeared to have making the film translate on screen.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is another example of director Jon Turteltaub doing what he does. He makes movies that appeal to the mainstream. Nothing more or less. His movies may seem watered down or downright bland, but he paces well and exposes the likability of the characters without digging too deep into why. In that way he’s actually kind of clever. This movie doesn’t just happen on its own, there is a definite force pushing it along so the characters don’t have much time to stop and smell the roses (read: develop) and you can navigate the plot with your eyes closed. But by moving the movies along so briskly the hope is that you overlook any weaknesses present. Sometimes it works for him and sometimes not, but in the case of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice there is just enough of everything there is to remotely care about without losing your interest. Like the fact that the special effects are good enough to make you forget how awful the music selections are. Things like that.
I’ve always said that a proper movie review should tell the reader why a movie is worth seeing. I have spent a lot of time over a lot of reviews analyzing the ‘why’, and almost every word of this review sounds like a celebration of mediocrity, but sometimes there is just no accounting for sitting at a movie and enjoying it knowing full well that 8 out of 10 other times you could have seen it you may not have. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is that movie. It’s like cotton candy; it looks neat, tastes good, goes down easy, and you enjoyed it, even if you forgot all about it by the time you were done.