The Dark Tower, 2017.
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Abbey Lee, Dennis Haysbert, Nicholas Hamilton, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, José Zúñiga, and Jackie Earle Haley.
The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.
Say what you will about the less than stellar track record of Stephen King adaptations, but at least up until this point, the terrible ones are entertaining in a so bad they’re kind of good way, while the good ones still hold up today. The Dark Tower (sequel to the series of novels that also contain various connections to all of King’s other acclaimed works) simply cannot muster up anything to elicit a sense of engagement.
Early on in the film audiences get treated to one of the motivating factors to Roland’s (Idris Elba) last remaining Gunslinger (their job is to protect the titular Tower at the center of the universe which if destroyed will unleash hell on earth) and his plight to protect his dying home world (a barren landscape known as Mid-World), which is his father being introduced and murdered by arch nemesis Walter (also known as The Man in Black played by Matthew McConaughey) all in the same lifeless scene. It’s not even a brutal or emotionally shocking death, but rather the evil sorcerer commanding the man to “stop breathing”… – cue supposed sadness. I probably shouldn’t be laughing at such deadly powers, but the execution truly is amusing.
Naturally, incidents like this shift Roland’s concerns away from securing the tower and into straight up vengeance, yet the result is a basic, generic good versus evil story. Walter wants to destroy the Tower just because fucking up Earth with demons is what nefarious villains do; he never once comes across as an actual character. The script actually chooses to give him a bunch of cringe-inducing one-liners, presenting him as an intimidating magician without actually building up his dastardly pedigree. McConaughey does his best to breathe life into the performance, but what is one to do when the adaptation of the narrative has gone the route of boring CGI and mostly lame attempts at action, rather than attempting to do justice to the rich lore.
So much of The Dark Tower is asking yourself what the hell is going on, which is quite an impressive feat considering the film does occasionally stop dead in its tracks to offer up expository dialogue exchanges. It’s a movie where traditional looking alien monsters randomly start materializing out of ugly red CGI mist that also materializes out of thin air outside. That’s not even the weirdest part, as I still have no idea why mass amounts of wood decided to come alive and attack young Jake (he frequently draws visions of the ensuing rivalry between Roland and Walter) before entering a portal to another world. Sure, it’s to protect the other universe from invaders, but why is a house coming to life? It’s like the Family Guy gag where Stephen King pitches a novel about a killer lamp. Furthermore, if this did happen in one of the novels, it’s possibly something that translates a lot better to paper than film. On a related note, Tom Taylor does not give a very convincing turn as Jake, unable to invest viewers into dramatic scenes; he just doesn’t have the necessary acting chops.
The only saving grace is that the gunplay is very stylistic, including a sequence that is essentially the equivalent of playing the hardest part of a shooter video game on the toughest difficulty setting and head shotting/one-hit killing every enemy in the climactic room before the final confrontation. Before that point, viewers will have to suffer through some tonally out of place comedy dealing with Roland’s inexperience with Earth, but at least the film concludes with memorable set pieces. Of course, the ending is absolutely cliché and resolves nothing, although that’s part of a larger problem with The Dark Tower; it’s so uninvolved that it feels like nothing actually matters. The world building is to be appreciated, but the actual story and characters are a slap in the face to their depth in the novels.
Again, that’s the real shame here; Stephen King is known for pushing the imagination of a child beyond its limit for the sake of entertainment, and implementing aspects of his real-life into narratives to create something that packs a punch. The idea that only the mind of a child could destroy this Tower is a fascinating one, at least until the writing on the screen fades and the actual movie begins. The Dark Tower is a special-effects ridden mess, and a hideously uncreative one to boot. However, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey do their best with the material given. There is potential in all of this, so let’s hope that the upcoming remake of It can get things back on track for the tantalizing Stephen King cinematic universe.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★