The Dark Tower

Jacob Richardson | 21/08/2017

Despite some innovative and intriguing action set pieces, The Dark Tower is, for the most part, unwatchable.

Combining all 7 of Stephen King’s expansive Dark Tower series of novels into one film, the Nikolaj Arcel directed The Dark Tower follows a young boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor). Jake sees visions of a mysterious Man in Black and a brooding Gunslinger. When his mother and stepfather try to send him to an asylum, he escapes and finds his way into another dimension; mid-world. Full of desolate landscapes and a quiet seemingly brought on by fear, mid-world is a shadow of it’s former self - a fact most evident in the appearance of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the world-weary and bedraggled form of the last Gunslinger. When he finds out that Jake has been having visions of the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), he teams up with him to chase his eternal enemy.


While The Dark Tower is a poor piece of cinema from a standalone point of view, it is particularly egregious for those who are fans of the original King-penned series. With seven books crammed into a short 95 minutes, it was inevitable that liberties would be taken. Arcel not only combines plot lines and speeds up moments of tension from the novels, but even combines characters. It’s this last transgression that really hampers the film. The book series included, early on in the piece, a young boy sidekick for Roland. However, this young lad was also killed off in a heartbreaking moment of personal introspection for our Gunslinger. The novels then replaced the role with an older male, in his 20’s.


In the film version, the child Jake informs our worldview, occupying the space at the centre of the film, and it provides an odd tone to the piece. At times, the movie feels childlike, as if we were watching The Spider Chronicles or something akin to that genre of teen action/fantasy. Yet at other times, King’s horror roots come out and the movie shifts into a higher octane gear, entirely inappropriate for a younger audience. It’s disconcerting and, in the end, debilitating to the success of the story, which lacks neither impact nor interest.


Indeed, storywise The Dark Tower is nigh on unintelligible. With talk of ‘shine’, plot holes wide enough to throw a house demon through, and a narrative arc painted in such broad strokes that everything of interest from the novels is lost, it is easier to just sit back, let the drivel wash over you, and watch the pretty pictures on the screen. Yet even the most inattentive viewer will find themselves questioning why Jake can use his shine to defeat a house demon, but never in any other scenario, or how Roland can fire two bullets at different times and have them hit each other in mid-air.


The crowded storyline also does a disservice to our lead actors. While Tom Taylor is a poor presence on screen, particularly in dramatic moments, his two co-stars (Elba and McConaughey) are two of the best actors working today. It is a shame, then, that they are saddled with nothing but exposition in everything they say. Idris comes off a little better, given a bit more time to chew the scenery as the Gunslinger traipses across mid-world with Jake, but McConaughey is utterly decimated with the material he is given to work with. Aside from cramming lines of dialogue so cringe worthy you’ll be dry-retching in the cinema, he spends most of his time shouting and waving his hands around.


The action is a saviour in this case, with a number of cool shots of Roland and the Man in Black doing battle. It’s a shame that it can’t save a film entirely devoid of sense. You leave the cinema with an overwhelming feeling that, if this series of novels had of been brought to the screen by a better director, and with a stronger, more confident creative vision that spanned a number of films, it could have been one of the greatest series of this century. Instead, it is another middling entry in the cinematic landscape, likely to be forgotten by the time you reach the cinema foyer.


A waste of talent on almost every level, The Dark Tower is an overwhelming disappointment.