REVIEW: The Dark Tower (2017)

Theatrical Release Poster – Columbia Pictures

The following is a review of The Dark Tower – Directed by Nikolaj Arcel.

A dark tower stands tall at the center of the universe. It protects all realities, including our reality on Earth, from powerful dark forces from the outside. In Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower, which is based on the Stephen King series of novels of the same name, the Man in Black (played by Matthew McConaughey) is trying to destroy the aforementioned tower using abducted psychic children and their powers.

The film follows Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor), one of most gifted children in the universe, who has been dreaming about the tower. When the Man in Black’s goons one day arrive to pick him up, Chambers manages to escape and travel through a Stargate-like portal to another world.

There he meets the Gunslinger (played by Idris Elba), who is blinded by his hatred of the Man in Black. Together Jake and the Gunslinger must try to stop the Man in Black from successfully bringing down the tower.

King supposedly considers this story as his magnum opus, but this adaptation has, sadly, been through an almost unique development hell. Multiple filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the series to the big screen over the last ten years.

But I weep for the fans of Stephen King’s popular The Dark Tower novels. Because The Dark Tower is finally here. And while it certainly had the potential to be great in the hands of Nikolaj Arcel, it is, quite frankly, a disappointing mess of a film that reeks of wasted potential.

I’ll always enjoy references and easter eggs, and so I am happy to report that there are plenty of King references. And even though I’ve never read the Dark Tower novels, I enjoyed the unsubtle references to IT and The Shining that the film is peppered with.

But references don’t make a movie good, and The Dark Tower isn’t a good movie. But I will say that I really liked Idris Elba and everything about his character. Whenever Elba was given something to do, the film just clicked for me, when it, at other points, would just be dull.

Idris Elba is so entertaining as the Gunslinger – in a film fairly disinterested in his point of view, no less – that had he been the focus of the film, he may have salvaged the production singlehandedly. Sure, that’s just a hypothetical, but Elba made me enjoy the film somewhat.

But it is definitely not a good movie. The first movie I was reminded of by The Dark Tower was another expensive disappointment — Duncan Jones’ Warcraft. The Dark Tower, like Warcraft, tries to bring you into what certainly seems like an amazing universe, but it does so without properly clarifying what makes it tick.

At one point during an action scene in the film, McConaughey’s character quickly mentions that the Gunslinger’s weapons are somehow tied to Arthurian mythology. It almost feels like the filmmakers were just throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick. The mythology of the Dark Tower universe is an afterthought.

The Dark Tower also feels rushed. It has a very short runtime of just over 90 minutes, which is not at all enough to welcome us into this King world. The Dark Tower also feels compressed. It almost seems like they’ve taken an entire feature film’s worth of runtime out of the film, to make it run smoother.

And sure, the film is over before you know it. So, you can’t really say that it is all that boring. But it does seem like the filmmakers took a shortcut to give you a universe that, by all accounts, deserves much better.

Most of the performances also disappoint. Tom Taylor, the young protagonist, seems miscast. And both Elba and McConaughey are underused, but McConaughey ends up with the short end of the stick. While Elba is entertaining and interesting, McConaughey’s Man in Black is a generic manipulative villain who looks like a magician that adores the likes of Criss Angel, but who talks like a Texas outlaw.

The Dark Tower is a truncated mess of a film. Ultimately, you may need to read a book to properly understand everything the film throws at you, but, then again, maybe you should just read one of the King books and ignore the film entirely…

5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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