The Dark Tower
Director(s): Nikolaj Arcel
Writer(s): Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee and Jackie Earle Haley
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Aug 4, 2017 - Wide
The Stephen King book series The Dark Tower is an eight book series that spans multiple genres. The Dark Tower movie just released is a 95 minute mishmash that amalgamates an epic tale into a simple story held together by the sheer charisma of Idris Elba. Stephen King’s fans will leave disappointed while those coming in without any knowledge of the books will find it to be an adequate late summer distraction.
A teenage boy, Jake (Tom Taylor), has been suffering terrible nightmares since his firefighter father’s death. Jake draws the people and places he sees in those dreams. To his mother and terrible stepfather, Jake is a troubled teen in need of psychiatric help. Jake is actually channeling the dystopian world of a parallel universe where a devilish Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) wants to destroy the Dark Tower that protects multiple universes from the horrors outside. The Man in Black is being sought by Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last in the line of Gunslingers who fought to protect the Dark Tower.
Just those last two sentences should tell you that there’s an awful lot of backstory to explore, a backstory whose surface is barely scratched in a movie with a 95 minute running time. In one scene, a misplaced cough by a fellow audience member could mean you would miss the couple of sentences that somehow link the Gunslingers to the Arthurian legend and Excalibur, but this flick gives it as much heft as a pointless tweet in a busy timeline.
The teenage boy is the centre of attention here, but again, we don’t really get to know too much about him and he’s really not given too much to do except run away when getting chased and introducing Roland to sugary beverages in NYC. We’re told the kid has “the Shine” (yep, a Shining reference –- the film and the books have several references to King’s other works) and the Man in Black and his minions (who are apparently American Apparel and Pepsi commercial extras) want to tap into his psychic power.
McConaughey’s Man in Black, whose actual name is Walter, is a lounge lizard of a demon with a shock of ink black hair. He swaggers through multiple universes like a bored businessman looking for a young date, killing people with a simple, whispered command of “Stop breathing.” Again, for a guy with a lot of backstory, we only get a hint of what he does, why he does it and who or what he does it for.
That brings us to Idris Elba and his gunslinger character, Roland. He’s the archetypal lonely gunslinger from countless Westerns, melding his quest to save the Dark Tower with an overpowering personal revenge issue. He doesn’t speak much. He doesn’t want to babysit the kid. He has no issue dispatching the people or things that get in his way. Elba portrays him with a strong grace that hints at his higher calling. Director Nikolaj Arcel and his cinematography and stunt teams choreograph Roland’s gun battles like an elaborate dance. Elba also gets the only intentional laughs in the movie with a fish-out-of-water segment in New York City. Elba is the glue that holds this film together, and it’s a heavy task given all the fragmented pieces.
August is usually a late summer dumping ground for pictures the studio has lost confidence in. The Dark Tower, with its huge backstory, looks like it was assembled into something passable after multiple focus groups. Fans of King hoping for a franchise will have to pray for a miracle box office after opening weekend. While they will most likely be disappointed, Elba’s performance, the action scenes, and the theatre’s air conditioning may make this an okay break from the dog days of summer.