Movie Review: ‘The Dark Tower’


Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Fran Kranz, Jackie Earle Haley, Claudia Kim, Katheryn Winnick

Plot: Jake Chambers is a young boy plagued by nightmares about a man in black clothing attempting to destroy a tall, dark tower. These attempts coincide with earthquakes occurring around the world, and Jake seeks a way to cross into the world he sees in his dreams and help the mysterious Gunslinger defeat the Man in Black.

Review: This is a surprisingly short film that seeks to introduce film-goers to a complex, far reaching mythology involving multiple realities developed over the course of seven books by Stephen King in what is described as his magnum opus. Having not read the book series prior to the movie we can’t tell you how successfully this movie adapts that sprawling genre defying epic, but we do know that we have many, many questions.

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The movie opens with the Man in Black aka Walter (McConaughey) hanging around a village of wholesome looking children and using them to power some big machine controlled by Topher from Dollhouse that shoots a laser into the titular tower. Some text at the beginning of the film tells us that this tower is at the centre of the universe and only a child’s mind can destroy it. It turns out that wide-eyed Jake (Taylor) is having a dream about this and wakes up into an earthquake.

From here we go through some scenes of people saying that Jake is crazy but Jake insists that it’s real. Eventually he dreams about a house in Brooklyn and seeks it out, finding a portal that takes him to a desert world where he meets a Gunslinger named Roland (Elba) who is trying to find Walter. As the movie goes on we learn that Jake has the Shining (from The Shining) and he’s so…shiny?…that Walter can use him to destroy the tower. So Roland is using Jake to find and kill Walter and Walter wants Jake to destroy the tower and fill the world of monsters.

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Is that it? I think so…but we have some questions.

We don’t know why Walter wants to destroy the tower, where he comes from or where he gets his power. There’s no explanation of how the tower works or why Walter doesn’t just set it on fire. We also don’t know why the Gunslingers are so significant, why Roland is immune to Walter’s magic powers or why Roland has some kind of superpower shooting skills. There’s a mention of his guns being made out of Excalibur, but it doesn’t come up again. Actually there’s quite a few things that get a heavy focus for about ten minutes and never come up again. There’s a scene of Roland teaching Jake to shoot and just as the kid gets it they stop and he never touches a gun again. There’s a girl in the alternate world who Jake gets all flirty with then vanishes from the movie after five minutes. The villages tell Roland and Jake to remember the number of their portal as it’s the only way out…then they never use it.

The last one might have just been a very, very pointed Easter Egg, since it’s 14-08 and that’s one of King’s stories. While not a King expert even we were able to pick out a couple…like a giant bloody sign reading ‘Pennywise’ which takes up the entire screen.

Time to wind it back and look at what worked, because it’s not all confusion and plot holes. There’s some damn good talent on the screen. Elba andMcConaughey dig right into their roles of grizzled cowboy and evil magician guy and they’re a huge amount fun to watch. Tom Taylor is also good in the role, carrying a big film alongside two veteran performers. He’s one to keep an eye on. There are other interesting characters, some with good actors behind them, but they never get enough screen time to be fleshed out.

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Whenever the action kicks in we get Roland performing gun tricks by bouncing bullets off things and Walter doing magic stuff, but all to often it’s bloody impossible to see what is happening. Either the camera is shaking and so close to the characters we can’t follow the fight or it’s so dark we don’t even know what they’re dealing with. One of their first encounters with a monster may have been done with shadow puppets for all we see of it. Aside from the final confrontation between the lead characters many of action sequences are just frustrating. The creatures wearing fake human faces are creepy and a good addition to the story, but we have no idea what they really where or what their deal is so they end up just being disposable henchmen.

On leaving the film we were mostly feeling like it was…anti-climatic. We got introduced to an interesting story and characters and it was very suddenly over with a weirdly tied up conclusion. Fortunately there was a fan of the books present to try and answer our questions…turns out most of the confusing stuff wasn’t in the books. Sadly they were more disappointed than the rest of us.

Mostly this felt like a missed opportunity. It’s a pity, because the good stuff was really good. Maybe Arcel will do better with his Fables adaptation.

Rating: FOUR out of TEN

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