The Dark Tower - Review: Just About Stays Standing
At the centre of the film universe lies the most powerful force in existence: us. Whether we like it or not, as films are made and shaped in response to consumer trends, our every decision decides our future. If we support a CG-driven action movie, they’ll be many others like it (<insert Transformers reference>). If we mention that films are taking themselves too seriously, we get things like Deadpool in response. Everything is connected. That’s why we’re most definitely responsible for this summer’s trend of shorter-running blockbusters. For years, people have been vocally against films more commonly reaching 2 or more hours in length. So naturally, filmmakers will see a shorter run time as a more marketable attribute. While ether cases like Dunkirk of this being a success (I couldn’t have taken 2 + hours of that intensity), there are sadly more cases of these cut run times having detrimental effects on their films. Dark Tower becomes the latest casualty of the short run summer, losing some of its magic from fast tracking out its story.
At the centre of the Universe stands The Dark Tower, pretending all from the monsters that lie beyond. The troubled young Jake (Tom Taylor – The Last Kingdom) may be the key to bringing it down for the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey – Interstellar) unless the Gunslinger (Idris Elba – Pacific Rim) can stop him.
Now I’m an 80s child, you give a young protagonist adventuring into a fantasy world and I’m all yours, and The Dark Tower has more than enough potential to spark my interest. Yet my biggest problem with this adaptation of Stephen King’s literary world was its lack of depth or rather how much of it the film skips over while racing through its story. The “Mid-World” is shown as being post-apocalyptic without any explanation, with vastly inconsistent levels of technology and barely any thought given to its inhabitants. The connected 2018 TV series (in which Idris Elba & Tom Taylor will reprise their roles) is supposed to be filling in the back story of the book series. That’s all well and good and hopefully will result in a deep and rewarding viewing when able to watch them all together. Yet that does not help The Dark Tower as a single-viewing experience, especially for casual cinema goers less concerned over waiting a year to fill in the blanks. Director Nikolaj Arcel would have been better off keeping his mind in the present and giving us more to go on. Instead, Mid-World feels like a generic cut-and-paste of studio back lot sets and props.
However, despite some rushing, I did like the overall story of The Dark Tower. It carried good classic themes of good Vs evil with underlying ideas of heroism and sacrifices for the greater good. The Gunslinger is the last hero standing and broken because of it. The events move well enough from location to location and returning to “Keystone Earth” aka Earth, which provides some good fish-out-of-water material for Elba to play with. What’s more its position as a story continuation rather a book adapation is rather fascinating. For those that haven’t read the books, the series concluded in a tad on the timey whimey. After finally reaching the end of his journey at The Dark Tower, the Gunslinger wakes up back where it all began with no memory of the events but carrying an artifact he didn’t have last time and whispered a message that if he reaches it again, the result might be different. So that is the story they’re picking in the films. It’s almost like a 2009 Star Trek reboot, only sticking closer to its original events.
The visuals are at times very impressive, and although there is occasional stretch on believability, the gun-fighting based action set pieces are entertaining and occasionally thrilling. Seeing Elba face down vast ranks of assault rifle-wielding minions with a pair of six shooters makes the villains look incompetent more than the hero strong but this is saved by focusing on The Gunslinger’s precision and skill. Despite this, the film loses itself in its Western theme, and there are some frustrating points where the story doesn’t give events enough time to sink in and be impactful. The atypical fall out at the two-thirds point between the heroic pair lasts barely 2 minutes before they’ve completely moved passed it, leaving it feeling rather pointless.
Another casualty of the condensed running time is villain quality. The Man in Black is quite literally Matthew McConaughey in a black shirt who's borrowed a few tricks from Kilgrave. He has no depth and no discernible personality other a Family guy interpretation of Matthew McConaughey. Similarly, his lieutenants are rarely-named, given significant screen time or given anything to do other than being a physical presence. The heroes fair better. Elba is certainly believable in his grub stubbornness being the product of his tragedy and holds the film together like its titular Tower. Similarly, young Taylor is decent as Jake. He gets almost no establishment time to sell his “troubled kid” angle but in fact, does a lot better with it than he really should. There are moments when he seems to lose his character but despite taking a few hits, he stands strong.
So The Dark Tower is an affair of promise Vs problems. It’s the promise of an interesting developing story and a decent lead pair pairing against problems of execution. The future of this tower now rests firmly on the 2018 TV show. If that delivers and successfully fleshes out the world then a potential film sequel could get away with this kind of rushing. It the show crumbles then there’s no rebuilding this tower. I’d call this film worth a watch for genre fans but keep in mind that you’re not getting the full picture.