13 August 2010


As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Physics geek Dave discovers a greater destiny as he becomes The Sorcerer's Apprentice in Disney's latest live-action fantasy film. He's sought after by two sorcerers who were once students of Merlin. Yeah, that Merlin. Balthazar wants to help Dave to defeat Merlin's deadliest enemy, Morgana. His rival, Horvath, wants to unleash her upon the world using a spell called the Rising. As Dave comes to terms with a world he could never have imagined, Balthazar must teach him everything he knows in order to stage a final battle.

The segment of Fantasia that Disney always seems to reference on DVD covers and posters of the film is of Mickey Mouse dressed as a sorcerer, and it's this little bit of back-catalogue iconography that has given way to The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The Fantasia segment was in turn based on a Goethe ballad, but this film resembles neither very much, simply because Nicolas Cage thought it would be a neat idea do a full film based on Mickey Mouse's magic mopping.

Instead it roots around in Arthurian legend. It seems as good a time as any to refer you back to my review of Percy Jackson, and my musings on how fantasy set in America often ends up somewhat crass. This one didn't impress me for starting out in Britain in 740AD before jumping to New York over a millennium later, but at least we don't have Cage reprising his attempt at a British accent from National Treasure: Book of Secrets as an apparent apprentice to Merlin.

Speaking of National Treasure, this one comes from director Jon Turteltaub, and he holds it all together considerably better than he did in that History Channel Indiana Jones knock-off of a franchise. It's a little long, and could have lost a scene referring back to the mop scene in Fantasia. Subsequently it could have been titled as something else entirely. Nevertheless, Turteltaub holds back on the running time and focuses on entertainment value.

Cage, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be having as much fun as you'd expect given how all of this was his idea, almost as if he got bored with the thought before it came into production. He still cuts loose a lot more than in National Treasure, and plays nicely against the terrific Alfred Molina. His Horvath is delightfully nasty and he chews the scenery very enjoyably throughout- while the gold standard is still his turn as Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2, Molina is always worth watching in these otherwise disposable Hollywood actioners.

Less enjoyable is Jay Baruchel, whose grating nasal voice and face-slapping astonishment at the plot is like an ultra annoying mix of Jerry Lewis and Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter, circa 2001. He's likeable enough, sure, but he's there only to ply the stock Hollywood maxim of nerd empowerment. It's taken to extremes here too- take a shot of some alcoholic beverage every time you're told he's a geek. And then there's Toby Kebbell, who I hope will fall back through whatever magic portal he stumbled through to get from small but acclaimed roles in British stuff to this and his minor role in Prince of Persia. He's wasted here as Horvath's sidekick, acted and written as the kind of role Russell Brand would've got two years ago.

In general, the film walks a fine line between enjoyable summer fare and disposable assembly-line blockbuster. The bits removed are certainly visible, as the narrative flows like a dream. Not in a good way, or in the way of Inception, but in the way that scenes cut short and suddenly pick up elsewhere jarringly. I'm sure that'll be great for deleted scenes on the DVD, but it's not desirable in the cinema. Never fear though, this isn't quite the inevitable bad Nicolas Cage film after his recent good run, but let's see if he can fit any more good ones in before National Treasure 3 (one of many films that wouldn't benefit from a D on the end of that title) looms large in multiplexes in two years' time.

It's mostly enjoyable, but without any of the charm of a Harry Potter or a Nanny McPhee. What both of those films have that this doesn't is a sense of wonder. We're repeatedly told how cool all the CGI is, but it never properly feels magical. The Sorcerer's Apprentice may just make you yearn for the days when Disney's particular brand of artificial magic was more spellbinding, but it's a fairly harmless family film that probably offers more to kids than adults.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is now showing at cinemas nationwide.
If and when you see The Sorcerer's Apprentice, why not leave a comment on the film and/or my review? Don't worry- I've duly noted that the remaining Harry Potter outings will be a bit heavy-going, so if you're looking for something lighter, this is probably it, really.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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