Remember that section in Fantasia with Mickey Mouse as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”? Well, forget all about that as this movie is nothing like that. Actually, forget I said that because this movie does acknowledge that sequence and also provides a huge tip of the hat to it in one fun scene. It’s also full of fun, thrills and visual treats so maybe it’s not quite as removed from the old Fantasia sequence as you’d first assume.
Jay Baruchel plays Dave, a young science nerd who has spent years being told by everyone in his life that a certain incident he witnessed (a whizz-bang, magical battle between Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina) never actually happened. That was ten years ago now, so when Balthazar Blake (Cage) reappears in his life and starts talking crazy talk about powerful magic and Merlin’s heir it’s unsurprising that young Dave wants to stay away from him and continue his normal life. That becomes a bit harder to do, however, when Maxim Horvath (Molina) also pops up yet again and keeps trying to kill him. Blake is a good sorcerer and must do whatever needs done to get Dave to realise his true potential and fulfil his role in defeating the evil sorcerers that want to help the infamous Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige) raise an army of the dead. It’s a race to stop Morgana’s evil plan and to get the girl (Becky Barnes, played by Teresa Palmer).
With a number of different writers (about five in total, from story to screenplay), you may expect something a bit messy but The Sorcerer’s Apprentice actually delivers a fine line in hokum. It sets up the main concepts with a sense of assuredness and faith in the material and then hurtles you through an enjoyable adventure so that you never have too much time to stop and think about how ridiculous the whole thing is. It’s also helped by some good humour, with a number of moments in which the characters realise how absurd events are and react accordingly.
Director Jon Turteltaub has already done this blockbuster thing before, with both National Treasure movies, and shows no lack of confidence here as he gets to have fun with a whole new box of tricks and enjoy some fantastic set-pieces (a car chase in the latter half of the movie is energetic and also full of humour).
The special effects are constantly superb and the core concept of the movie means that they don’t feel as if they’re all there without any actual need to be there. With a great pace, numerous fight sequences and an overall sense of proper blockbuster FUN the only thing that could drag things down is the cast.
Luckily, that’s all good too. Nicolas Cage is enjoyably quirky (Cage? Quirky?? Never!!) and cranky, Alfred Molina is a suitably menacing and arrogant baddie while Toby Kebbell gets a lot of laughs as the longing-to-be-evil stage magician drafted into the battle. Monica Bellucci and Alice Krige are rather underused but Teresa Palmer makes for a bright and breezy love interest. Then we have Jay Baruchel at the centre of the movie and he’s an absolute delight. There may be people saying that he just spends almost every movie he does playing the same character but he excels at being the geeky guy with a good heart so I never mind seeing him in those roles. It’s his ability to play the role so well that makes the movie so enjoyable and engrossing as things build towards a finale that you know will require the nerd to believe in himself as others do.
By the time the end credits rolled I had a goofy grin on my face and had restrained myself a number of times from punching a fist into the air in jubilation. I don’t know why I didn’t hear much more about this film when it was released. For me, it’s the best mainstream, live-action blockbuster I’ve seen since the first Pirates Of The Caribbean.
DIRECTOR: JON TURTELTAUB
CAST: NICOLAS CAGE, JAY BARUCHEL, ALFRED MOLINA, TOBY KEBBELL, ALICE KRIGE, MONICA BELLUCCI, TERESA PALMER
RUNTIME: 109 MINS APPROX