COLUMBIA PICTURES (2017)
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Franz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley
“For centuries, the gunslingers were knights. Sworn to protect this from the coming of the dark. Now I'm the only one left.”
Presumably, the other gunslingers lost interest like the studio did making this movie.
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series spanned eight books (and a number of comics) and was crammed full of lore, world-building, interesting characters and a fleshed out story. The movie's runtime is 90 minutes long and, therefore, has none of the above. Curse you, Columbia.
Jake Chambers (Taylor) awakens each night after dreams and visions of a Man in Black (McConaughey) attempting to destroy a Tower (a dark one…) in order to extinguish the world, and standing against him is a mysterious Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Elba). Jake’s mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), and stepfather believe he is suffering from trauma following his father’s death and commit him to psychiatric help. Problem is, the shrinks sent to rehabilitate Jake have visible neck scars and signs that their faces have been sewn on. Jake has seen these types in his visions – and they ain’t the good guys.
Escaping to a decrepit house (yes, which was seen in his vision) Jakes manages to open a portal to Mid-World, a post-apocalyptic world in the universe (that Jakes has seen in his vision…ahem) and after roaming the Tatooine-esque desert (complete with twin suns) is found by Roland. Seeking revenge for the death of his father, Roland is on a quest to kill The Man in Black (aka Walter Padick) and prevent him from destroying the Dark Tower. In order to destroy the Tower, Walter is syphoning the power of gifted children and creating power surges that will cause the Tower to crumble, allowing monsters and demons to flood the universe. Not good. Having his visions examined, Jake is revealed to have telepathic powers (a la The Shining) and reveals the location of Walter’s operation to Roland – problem is, Walter can track Jake via his telepathy and is on the hunt for the boys power.
Having been in development hell, shifting studios, scripts and directors (including J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard) for over a decade, The Dark Tower took on an almost mythical status – would it ever be made? How much of a sprawling epic could they really make of this? Well, it was made and the epicness was stripped away in what is simply a massive missed opportunity. Whilst eight movies may have been a stretch, the story could easily have been made into a trilogy at worst in order to pay credence to the source material. With the movie as it is, 90 minutes was a blessing.
So much was left unexplained or unexplored – information vital to the story. Who really are the gunslingers? How were they wiped out? What’s the story with Walter? What’s the story with the TOWER?! Why does Tom Taylor age inexplicably at points during the movie!!? The answer “it’s explained in the books” is simply not good enough if it's portrayed as vital in the movie, it needs to be explained. The plot of the movie is formulaic but works lightly as a stand-alone movie if you’re willing to ignore that there is a huge backstory to the events, and even then things just happen and disappear. Clunky editing and a rapid runtime help not a bit.
Idris Elba vs Matthew McConaughey just sounds awesome and should’ve been. As the Gunslinger, Idris Elba delivers his usual solid performance. His weary, determined character hints at a heavy past and his pathos bleeds through his haunted eyes. It’s now expected that Elba will be very good. Matthew McConaughey manages to rein in the ham as the Man in Black, who whilst looking cool and brings some peril to the affair, doesn’t have a lot to do aside from walking with his hands behind his back and asking people to “stop breathing”. As his power and sorcery are never explained and delved into, the character is sadly one-dimensional. Killer Joe, he ain't. Tom Taylor is fine as the young Jake but is sadly bland for the most part.
Jackie Earle Haley appears apparently.
The build-up throughout the movie points towards the big showdown between Roland and Walter, but when it happens this too is disappointing. Irritatingly short and unsatisfying, the opportunity to redeem the story was lost. The action scenes look cool, but again are edited poorly – very choppy and unobtrusive – thus removing the necessary intensity. The Gunslinger’s varied methods of reloading his pistol are great to watch though, and Roland’s dispatching of the hordes of goons are impressive. The effects are fine and there’s nothing that jumps out as hideous, but that sort of sums up the movie – it’s just fine.
After all the tinkering and rehashing of the story over time, the movie ends up being confused, muddled and lacking soul. There’s no real reason to root for the characters, other than the fact Idris Elba is his usual cool self. It’s a huge shame as the potential for this story was incredible and could easily have played out as a sci-fi/fantasy Lord of the Rings scale saga. Alas, it’s not to be.
The Tower will fall. As will your eyelids.
August 17th 2017