Wednesday, 18 August 2010

THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE review

Out now in cinemas in the new Nicolas Cage/Jay Baruchel starring Disney actioner, The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
More after the jump...



It's a sorry state of affairs when you've decided your life is over at the age of 20, but that's exactly the conclusion that tech nerd Dave (Jay Baruchel) has come to. He's still haunted by an event 10 years ago where he encountered warring magicians Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) and Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), who accidentally got themselves trapped in an cursed urn for a decade. Well, now their time is up and they're back to finish their fight for control of Merlin's powers.


This is Disney's latest attempt to 'reimagine' one of their old properties, this time being one of the scenes from the Mickey Mouse starring Fantasia. As source material goes it's slight, but at least that allows them plenty of room for expansion.


The first thing this film does is overload itself with backstory about Merlin that took place in Britain, 720 AD. That's enjoyably vague and historically inaccurate in a way that only Hollywood can manage. I suppose it's best to be vague when you've got one Brit, one American and one French speaking Italian as your three main magicians. It quickly sets up an epic tale that mostly involves all of the bad guys being stacked up in a russian doll type thing (apparently called a Grimhold), before moving on to a peculiar way of setting up its main character, showing scenes of Dave as a ten year old basically getting his life destroyed through his involvement with Balthazar Blake.


When we meet Dave again as a 20 year old he's morphed into Jay Baruchel (exuding his usual goofy, nerdy charm), and Nicolas Cage appears back on the scene to pronounce Dave as the next great Sorcerer. Dave's become a bit of a science whizz in the intervening years, and helpfully lives in a lab housed in a fantastically palacial abandoned subway interchange; the perfect place for Balthazar to teach him a bit of magic.


Joining Dave on his journey is Becky (Teresa Palmer), the girl of his dreams who ditched him as a pants-wetting ten year old. The pair get reacquainted early on in the film, and Dave uses his new skills as a magician to try and win her heart. It's a sweet but completely predictable romantic subplot.


Cage's Balthazar Blake doesn't make for much of a teacher either. His tutelage largely consists of showing Dave where to point and then telling him to concentrate. The magic ring will do the rest. The highlight of his learning process is watching Dave cast a spell to make his mops do all the cleaning for him. It's the one scene that had to be included from the original Fantasia source material, and there is a sense of giddy charm in seeing it brought to life with the original music.


I do have a soft spot for Jay Baruchel, and he makes for a likeable, if terribly nerdy, apprentice. He should continue to look for those off-kilter leading man roles (like he had in She's Out Of My League), as that's more suited to his talents, and to be honest, asking him to pass for a 20 year old is pushing it a bit.


Alfred Molina uses his British accent to full effect as the bad guy, despite his character being slightly inept at reclaiming the Grimhold or utilising his magic skills in any really devious ways. Having done the super-villain thing before as Doctor Octopus, you'd have to think Molina is slightly wasted here, but not as much as the other bad guys. Sun-Lok, the deadly taloned magician who was trapped in the grimhold after Horvath, is dealt with easily (but he does have a nice Chinatown set dragon fight), and Monica Belluci barely features in the film at all.


Perhaps most enjoyable is Toby Kebbell's fright wigged Vegas entertainer, Drake Stone. Like the bastard child of Debbie McGee and Russell Brand, he can perform a trick or two, but he's also an entertainingly pompous dickhead. A joy to watch every time he's on screen, Kebbell definitely has a bright future if he can steal a scene from under Alfred Molina's nose.


The main star is obviously Nicolas Cage, and he's certainly had some diverse roles this year. Cage always shines when he's some crazy maverick, and doesn't fit too well into the mentor role here. He doesn't let loose in the way we've become accustomed to, and despite it being a kids film I still think there was room for that.


Plenty of stuff happens throughout this film, but none of it particularly thrilled me. There's a steady stream of lightning and flying monuments etc, but I never felt wowed. Being set in New York is always a plus for me as it's the most cinematic city. This film does make use of the roads and geography quite well, and the inclusion of the Wall Street Bull was nice, but there's not enough landmarks used to create any iconic scenes.


There's a lot of bumph about Prime Merlinians and endless McGuffins that don't mean anything. There's the ring that controls the magic, the russian doll that holds the bad guys in place, the book that Dave must use to learn spells and the urn that houses the bad guys for ten years. If you can ignore its basic flaws The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a perfectly enjoyable family adventure, but I can't see a franchise coming out of this.


Verdict

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