Over the last few years, Hollywood A-lister Nicolas Cage, like many other Americans, has been struggling with heavy financial woes. I won’t pretend to know the particulars, but the man needs money and he’s been working constantly to combat this problem.
Counting voice-over work, Cage completed four films last year and is on his way to having four more in the can by the end of 2010. While quantity can add up to nothing, what is exciting is the quality of some of this work. With weird and wacky turns in Werner Herzog’s The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans and the twisted superhero movie, Kick-Ass, this recent run seems to have reinvigorated Cage, giving him some of the energy and fire he had during his early career in such films as Vampire’s Kiss and Wild at Heart.
Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice may not break any new ground, but it is apparent that Nicolas Cage is having a hell of a time playing wizard. The film re-teams Cage with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has been instrumental in making Cage’s career by casting him in The Rock, Con-Air and, more recently, the National Treasure films. Bruckheimer knows how to make big, entertaining event movies, and this is no exception.
What makes The Sorcerer’s Apprentice particularly agreeable is that — in a summer when these types of movies have fallen flat — this movie delivers what is promised: a good time.
The story begins as a tale of three apprentices, Balthazar (Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina) and Veronica (Monica Bellucci), all students of the great and powerful Merlin. The year is 740 A.D. and Merlin must do battle against the wicked Morgana (Alice Krige) to stop her from performing “The Rising” spell and damning the world to eternal darkness where the dead walk the earth once again. Morgana’s defeat seems inevitable until Merlin is betrayed by one of his own and destroyed. Balthazar traps Morgana in a Grim Hold, a sort of magic nesting doll, and begins his search for the one person who can truly destroy her.
Those aren’t spoilers. That exposition is what is thrown at you in the first five minutes of the film, an impressive feat as part of a movie brimming with plots and subplots. Apprentice is credited to six writers and it shows — for better and for worse.
Over a thousand years later, and Balthazar is still looking. His quest has taken him to present day Manhattan where he finds young Dave (Jay Baruchel), seemingly “The One” capable of finally defeating the evil sorceress. But first, the reluctant apprentice must learn to embrace his destiny and become the great wizard that he was born to be.
Director Jon Turteltaub knows how to stage the action in thrilling fashion, which results in a handful of great scenes that sweep you up and into the film. Though the special effects used to create Cage and Molina’s hurling fireballs would have been a little easier to swallow had they not followed The Last Airbender so closely. That visual already seems old hat, but luckily the effect wizards have plenty of other new ideas up their sleeves.
However, the plot does get bogged down at times, the themes are a touch stale — accept your destiny, be yourself, don’t open evil nesting dolls — and the boy/girl elements featuring Dave and his lovely love interest, Becky (Teresa Palmer) are forced, playing as an almost mandatory device the filmmakers used to kill time (and it wastes a lot of it). Dave trips over himself trying to woo Becky far too much instead of focusing more on the hocus pocus.
What The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has going for it are huge doses of entertaining action and fun. If these sorts of sword and sorcery flicks excite you, this will not disappoint. Plus it’s nice to see Nicolas Cage chew the scenery again, for whatever reason.
3 out of 5