REVIEW: Nicolas Cage's Magic Can't Save Sorcerer's Apprentice

Movieline Score:

To be a sorcerer, at least in the terms outlined in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, you've got to engage most of your brain, not the measly 10 percent most of us poor average Joes use. You also have to be able to harness electricity so you can mold fiery snowballs of energy with your hands and fling them at bad people. And pointy-toed leather shoes are not optional: Rubber-soled sneakers block the flow of energy. "Plus," as Nicolas Cage's sorcerer guru Balthazar tells his young student Dave (Jay Baruchel), "it helps to look classy."

It would take more than pointy-toed shoes to give The Sorcerer's Apprentice real class. The picture is fanciful in the most pedestrian way, a jumble of effects that are expensive-looking and yet, for the most part, conspicuously lacking in magic. The picture's saving grace is that much of it was shot in New York, and even though director Jon Turteltaub -- the guy behind the whoppingly successful National Treasure movies -- isn't so great on the follow-through, he does at least propose some intriguing and almost-magical ideas: For example, the way Balthazar appropriates one of the Chrysler Building gargoyles for use as his own private aircraft.

The problem is that you can see those gargoyles much better in The The's old "I Saw the Light" video, even though that, too was largely (though not all) illusion. The The Sorcerer's Apprentice gargoyles are murky-looking and half-glimpsed, an approach that would work well enough in a movie with an impressionistic, dreamy look. But The Sorcerer's Apprentice is too literal-minded in its vision; Turteltaub strives to show us realistic-looking magic, without realizing he'd be better off if he acknowledged that there's no such thing. Instead, we get human figures that emerge "magically" from swarms of cockroaches and sorceresses who dissolve into dust particles right before our eyes. It's the best CGI money can buy, and who cares?

Maybe the effects would feel more magical if the narrative structure holding them up were more stable. (The writers here include Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard and the entire population of Belgium, though those last are uncredited.) The Sorcerer's Apprentice is set up with a backstory straight out of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Mort d'Arthur -- not. The great magician Merlin entrusts his secrets to three disciples, one of whom is a bad egg: There's Cage's Balthazar; his main squeeze the comely Veronica (Monica Bellucci, who doesn't get nearly enough screen time); and grumpy Horvath (a perpetually scowling Alfred Molina), who's in a bad mood because, among other reasons, he didn't get the girl.

Merlin's archenemy is the sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige), but after a magicians' scuffle she gets locked away in a Russian nesting-doll-type thingie called a grimhold. In fact, everybody except Balthazar gets locked away, and the dying Merlin hands him a craft-fair dragon ring and tells him to go out and find the Prime Merlinian, the only one who can save the universe from evil. Or something like that.

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  • Greg says:

    When ever some third rate bashes a movie it proves to be a mega hit. Thanks for the bash. If this is the only movie I see this summer I know I won't be disapointed.

  • ZombieStrike says:

    If this is the only movie you see this summer, I'll be disappointed for you.

  • LickyDisco says:

    Ummmmm, I'm kinda sorta looking forward to this one too. All the trailers and clips I've seen look pretty darn good. I enjoyed Baruchel's deadpan delivery when he did hiccup's voice in "How to Train Your Dragon", it's nice to see young Jake Cherry (Nick from "Night at the Museum")in another movie, Molina never disappoints as a baddie, and as for Cage, well shoot, I like-a him just fine. We'll be there opening day, yo.

  • Dom Cobb says:

    This movie looks like it has a weak storyline and lame plot with one-liner, dialogue with cheesy comedy and a very predictable movie. It is going to be like Percy Jackson: Sell the audience with great CGI but do not show them the weak storyline. This movie is going to fail. Inception looks more better and it has better reviews than this pile of junk. Just because a movie looks "fun" doesn't mean it is going to be good.

  • Ted says:

    His name is "Dave?" I was really hoping for "Mickey."
    And I don't think it's "beneath" a movie star to star in a big summer movie. You had a similar critique of Adrian Brody last week. As for their performances - these actors are too good to "wink" at the audience as you suggest they might have.

  • richie-rich says:

    calm down, greggy. get 2 aroma therapy candles, concentrate on the flames for 2 and 1/2 hours & you will be a sweetie pie.....

  • Mick says:

    Nicolas Cage is EASILY one of the most eccentric people in Hollywood right now and at the same time one of the most successful box office draws of all time. He’s awesome! He’s responsible for Johnny Depp being an actor, owns/owned a DINOSAUR SKULL, and just rocks. Here’s more than enough proof:
    How can you not like the guy or at least not find him extremely interesting after reading that?

  • Tamar says:

    This is not a dig on the review, but if I hear "normal people only use 10% of their brains" one more time, I will destroy something. I don't know why movies continue to perpetuate this idea and why people believe it. Sigh.

  • Not exactly a classic like the Percy Jackson film though

  • Trace says:

    She hardly trashed it. Sheesh!

  • Trace says:

    And just because a movie looks ponderous doesn't mean it will be any better, MISTAH COBB!

  • Trace says:

    This movie was ok. People gave it short strift because, essentially, you've seen it all before. But it's worth a DVD rental. Not bad, but not particularly good either.