“Almost” and “wants to be” should never precede the word “epic.”
Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) is a sorcerer, one of a very few trusted by Merlin himself with the secrets of magic. Dave thinks he’s just an average kid until circumstances lead him to meet aforementioned sorcerer in modern day New York City. Sensing power within the child and confirming it, Balthazar intends to take him on as his apprentice until the near escape of an old enemy (Alfred Molina) traps the old sorcerer, sending Dave back into the world with no understanding of what just happened or the untapped power within him. Ten years later (to the day), both hero and villain return to the world, both knowing that Dave (Jay Baruchel) holds the key to saving the world or enslaving it for all time.
Sorcery, legends, mystical prisons, and secrets, all the ingredients needed to tell a fairy tale set in modern times. While the characters and story are both interesting, both are visibly being held back. Multiple chase scenes start out interesting, but then fade out instead of reach any real conclusion. If the good guy is completely distracted, why doesn’t the bad guy pounce? This happens often and repeatedly enough to make the running time seem far longer than it is (and not in a good way.) From beginning to end, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice feels like part one of an as-yet unannounced trilogy where two-thirds of the coolest stuff is being saved for later.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that no time is taken to explain how magic works or why you can’t just keep hammering away at your opponent. It seems true that the sorcerers themselves are capable of suffering plenty of damage and bounce right back, but that doesn’t apply to Dave (at least not at first.) Isn’t this the story of magic users hurling spells and such? What is everyone waiting around for? The look, feel, and effects serve the film well, but even the nod to the episode that inspired the film, where the foolish apprentice animates mops and buckets to his detriment, is taken far out of the original context (instead of a lazy apprentice, he’s merely in a hurry and the ire received in response doesn’t feel earned.)
We finally get what we signed up for at the end, but by then it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen and only hints at the world-changing implication that are conveniently beyond the sight of mere mortals. Since no one else seems to know what’s at stake, the very end somehow feels meaningless, especially after the “end of the credits” bit. Nic Cage is far better suited to playing Balthazar than he was Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, Alfred Molina is always fun playing at villainy, and Jay Baruchel practically gives a live performance of his character from How to Train Your Dragon. Still, the finished edit feels like there’s more than a few scenes missing and a better story on the cutting room floor, and if doesn’t do well in theaters or DVD, whatever else was planned will remain another empty secret.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)