Forged in Myth, Nicolas Cage Shines in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’

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CHICAGO – The fantasy action epic has joined the animated film as the go-to genre for summer films. Disney joins the fray with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” featuring magic, special effects action and a deep mythology, spiced with Nicolas Cage doing a slightly warped version of a King Arthur-era apprentice for Merlin the Magician.

Merlin actually has three apprentices, as the film opens in the Arthurian age. Balthazar (Cage), becomes locked in a battle with Merlin against the evil Morgana (Alice Krige). Another of Merlin’s protégés, Horvath (Alfred Molina), has joined the evil side and the third apprentice, Veronica (Monica Bellucci), has allied with Balthazar and the elderly wizard. In an epic battle, Merlin is compromised, while Horvath, Morgana and Veronica become locked in a Russian nesting doll-type container.

Balthazar then becomes an immortal, roaming the world in search of a boy who is destined to be the next Merlin, in order to free his colleagues and defeat Morgana. By sheer coincidence he comes upon a boy named Dave in New York City in the year 2000. The boy has accidentally come into Balthazar’s antique shop, a front for his activities. As he looks at the nesting doll, the evil layer is suddenly released in his presence, and a battle between Horvath and Balthazar takes place in front of him. They end up locked in another container, in a spell lasting ten years.

After running from the shop, the boy is retrieved and embarrassed in front of his school group, and grows up as a tech nerd who ends up teaching at NYU. What he doesn’t know is that he is the boy that Balthazar has been searching for. Full grown Dave (Jay Baruchel) encounters Balthazar again ten years to the day of their first meeting, this time brought into the battle after the two other sorcerers have been freed.

Good vs. Evil: Nicolas Cage as Balthazar and Alfred Molina as Horvath in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’
Good vs. Evil: Nicolas Cage as Balthazar and Alfred Molina as Horvath in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’
Photo Credit: © Walt Disney Pictures

It will now be up to Balthazar to teach his new apprentice the magical ropes, to defeat Morgana and Horvath, who has recruited a magician of his own, Drake Stone (Tony Kebbell). The final battle will take place on the streets of Manhattan.

There are two tremendous attributes in this film – the performances of Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina, and the basis in mythology that adds a powerful incentive to the magical fireworks. Believing in the complex set-up of the typical “good vs. evil” stand off provides an urgency to the defeat of Morgana. Steeping it in the King Arthur story makes it all the more accessible and cool.

Cage has gratefully found a character for his method acting weirdness that is appropriate. His wizard apprentice combines desperation, gravitas and a sense of lifestyle/humor evolved over the thousand years he has roamed through history. His reaction to most situations is world weary, and he projects that onto his apprentice Dave. Some of the early training takes on a Chaplin-esque slapstick with Cage at the helm.

And like his villain in “Spider-Man 2,” Alfred Molina knows what to do with pure evil. He starts with a basis of no regret or humanity, and in this film adds the wacky associate Drake Stone (who in the real world has become a David Copperfield-type Vegas magician) for comic relief. Molina is the type of actor that could read the phone book on film effectively, and his casting provides the oomph that legitimizes the confrontation.

Less effective are the subplots and casting of Dave. Jay Baruchel has made a fortune (presumably) playing the nerd, but here he seems misplaced. Perhaps he is lacking a sense of innocence because of his technological background circa 2010. The subplot involving a romance with a girl (Teresa Palmer) he has known since 6th grade is disappointing, even as it is associated with the famous scene from “Fantasia,” the brooms and mops coming to life to clean his bachelor pad.

Mentoring: Nicolas Cage and Apprentice Dave (Jay Baruchel) in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’
Mentoring: Nicolas Cage and Apprentice Dave (Jay Baruchel) in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’
Photo Credit: © Walt Disney Pictures

The Summer Films of 2010 also continues its awkward pose display. Between “The Last Airbender,” “The Karate Kid” and this film there have been more strange poses to appear magical or in fight mode than a year of Hong Kong “chop-sockys.”

The fight scene runs a little long, but again because of its mythological roots it is more telling, and arguably symbolic as portrayed in New York City. Monica Bellucci makes a welcome cameo in the end as Veronica, stunningly beautiful after being locked in a doll container for a thousand years.

Disney has found the formula to both honor its Sorcerer’s Apprentice/Fantasia past and appeal to the kid-centric action lust of the current age. It helps, too, that Nic Cage is one weird dude.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens in everywhere July 14th. Featuring Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina, Monica Bellucci, Jay Baruchel, Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell and Alice Krige. Screenplay by Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, directed by Jon Turteltaub. Rated “PG

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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