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Review: The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower (2017)

Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel

Premise: Based on the novels by Stephen King. A boy with troubled dreams (Tom Taylor) discovers another dimension and befriends The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), a pistol wielding hero who defends a tower against supernatural villain The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey).

What Works: The Dark Tower is the first installment of what is intended to be an ongoing franchise. More specifically, this is apparently the pilot for a planned television series. Thinking of The Dark Tower in televisual terms instead of cinematic terms, this is a decent introduction. Television programs succeed largely upon creating characters who are interesting and complex and will draw viewers back week after week and season after season. The Dark Tower has that in its two lead actors. Tom Taylor plays Jake Chambers, a teenage boy with psychic abilities who stumbles into an inter-world conflict. Taylor is credible as a teenager in an extraordinary situation and he brings some emotional reality to the film. Also impressive is Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, the last of a legion of warriors known as Gunslingers who combat the forces of darkness and defend a tower that holds the universe together. Deschain takes the teenage boy under his wing and their relationship is one of the better aspects of this film. Actors Tom Taylor and Idris Elba play off of one another pretty well and their characters share a mutual melancholy that binds them together. The Dark Tower also has an impressive music score by Junkie XL. It’s percussive and aggressive but it doesn’t overwhelm the action and the music is frequently the only thing making the movie exciting.

What Doesn’t: The Dark Tower is never very engaging. Some of this is a result of technical flaws in the moviemaking. The picture feels clumsy. The filmmakers don’t set up and execute sequences very well. Just as an overall story has a beginning, middle and end, individual scenes also need to have a dramatic shape. Many sequences in The Dark Tower don’t do that. The images and settings of this movie don’t fit together and a lot of the editing is choppy. The same uneven quality is true of the storytelling. The Dark Tower introduces a whole universe with its own internal logic but none of this is explained very well. The filmmakers don’t establish the layout of the universe or the people and power structures within it. For a story that supposes galactic consequences, The Dark Tower never feels appropriately grandiose. The film draws upon other genres, in particular the Western, and it leans on the conventions. The Gunslinger is clearly based on Western archetypes as is the Man in Black, the villain played by Matthew McConaughey. But the filmmakers expect the viewer to fill in too much of the story world. The conflict of this movie isn’t defined and the stakes remain vague. A lot of that is due to The Dark Tower’s poorly defined villain. A lot of spectacle films of recent years involve antagonists who try to take over the planet or abolish human civilization. The Man in Black one-ups them; he wants to destroy the universe but he doesn’t have any motivation to do so. When the villains of comic book adventures and alien invasion tales execute their plans there is usually some kind of endgame such as dominance over Earth or the absorption of natural resources. The Man in Black doesn’t have anything to gain from destroying the universe. The good guys and the bad guys aren’t competing over anything tangible and that prevents the movie from ever becoming compelling. It doesn’t help that Matthew McConaughey is not very good in this film. The actor plays smooth pretty well and he’s capable of villainy but the script gives him nothing to work with and McConaughey resorts to chewing the scenery.

Bottom Line: The Dark Tower is a mediocre action picture. It might yet yield an interesting franchise and Tom Taylor and Idris Elba are promising in their roles. But this movie is clumsily made and dramatically underwhelming. 

Episode: #660 (August 13, 2017)