The NATIONAL TREASURE trio of star Nicolas Cage, director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer come together to try and strike magic again. But with a title SORCERER'S APPRENTICE, the film actually has little magic. There are a lot of pyrotechnics and visual effects, but none of it brings the whimsy or awe that the title suggests.
In one of those opening voice over sequences that quickly explains the mythology of the world, we learn that Merlin (James A. Stephens, SHERLOCK HOLMES) had three apprentices to help him protect his sorcery secrets from archenemy Morgana (Alice Krige, TV's DEADWOOD). Balthazar (Cage) and Veronica (Monica Bellucci, THE MATRIX RELOADED) were Merlin's faithful servants, but Horvath (Alfred Molina, AN EDUCATION) betrayed him to Morgana. In a move of self-sacrifice, Veronica bonded herself with Morgana, forcing Balthazar to lock her in a nesting doll called the Grimhold, where he later imprisons other Morgana followers like Horvath. Before Merlin dies, he tells Balthazar to search the globe for the Prime Merlinean (really?), a sorcerer who would inherit all the abilities of the great one.
After searching for centuries, Balthazar finds Dave Stutler in New York City. The nine-year-old accidentally frees Horvath and then in inadvertently traps Balthazar and Horvath in a jar that holds people for a decade. This conveniently allows Dave to grow up into an awkward physics student (Jay Baruchel, SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE). When Balthazar and Horvath are freed, they head right for Dave, whose previous run-in with them made him a laughing stock and ruined his chances with Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer, BEDTIME STORIES), who he recently reunited with when she signed up for the Physics 101 class he is teaching. After getting attacked by Horvath then saved by Balthazar, Dave becomes Balthazar's reluctant apprentice.
The film has little to do with either Goethe's poem or the Mickey Mouse sequence in FANTASIA. Dave is actually the opposite of the apprentice in the poem. That apprentice was a cocky learner who gets himself in trouble by using magic he doesn't know how to control. While Mickey Mouse isn't cocky as the apprentice, he certainly gets himself in over his head, literally. The mop scene is crammed in with little fanfare and feels more like a burden to fit in rather than a highlight. It turns into just one of the film references throughout the production.
Instead of focusing on the sense of wonder that learning magic promises, the film is more interested in telling love stories. Balthazar pines over Veronica, a story robbed of any real emotion because we never really see them together other then a few shots in a montage. The Dave and Becky relationship is far better — it's actually the best part of the film due to the realistic courtship of the characters. The only problem is that Dave is so focused on getting Becky that fulfilling his destiny as the Prime Merlinean seems like the B story.
The worst part is the magical world, which is really bad for a film about magic. So many pieces seem unconnected and arbitrary that they never grow past plot devices. The Grimhold has two other sorcerers locked in it other than Morgana/Veronica and Horvath. Sun-Lok (Gregory Woo) has the purpose of giving the film a dragon in Chinatown scene. If you blink, you'll miss tween Salem witch Abigail Williams (Nicole Ehinger, TARA). With how easily some of these sorcerers are disposed of by Dave, I wondered why Balthazar didn't just kill them back in the day? If a rookie can do it why not a master? But then Dave is the Prime Meridian… err Merlinean. And where did Cris Angel-ish magician Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell, PRINCE OF PERSIA) learn about Morgana? Are there others out there? And if he's good enough to make himself famous, why does it seem like he was just waiting for Horvath to show up and make him a sidekick? Also why does the film seem interested in the idea that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," but never really do anything with it?
But you get the point; the world is all over the place. With five credited writers in one form or another, the script's messiness might be a case of too many witches ruining the brew. And let's not even get into the need for satellite dishes in a magic ritual from the dark ages.
Look at another film where a destined wizard is introduced to a magical world — HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE. That film had a sense of wonder as Harry was introduced to magic. The world also felt contained and yet free to allow anything to happen. This film seems like it's making things up as it goes along. Dave's reluctance to become a sorcerer makes the viewer reluctant to care about it too.