UK Release Date: 18th August 2017
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Writer: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Dennis Haysbert, Fran Kranz, Jackie Earle Haley
Synopsis: A young boy is transported to a fantasy realm where he meets a gunslinger looking to keep the world safe from an evil sorcerer, who wants to bring about chaos.
Among the dozens of adaptations of Stephen King’s works for television and the big screen, one of his most celebrated worlds has been conspicuously absent. Many King fans, therefore, were thrilled when a film adaptation of The Dark Tower first came around in 2007. Then, it all fell apart and the film began a torturous path to the big screen. A decade later, the movie has finally arrived courtesy of A Royal Affair director Nikolaj Arcel. Unfortunately, years languishing in development hell have transformed a promising project into an ungainly, pedestrian fantasy tale that fails in the most disappointing way possible – it’s just really ordinary.
Jake (Tom Taylor) is plagued at night by disturbing visions of a fantasy realm in which an eternal battle rages between a lone gunslinger (Idris Elba) and a sadistic sorcerer (Matthew McConaughey). When agents of the sorcerer, whom Jake calls The Man in Black, approach him on Earth, Jake flees through a wormhole, which transports him to Mid-World. Here, he stumbles upon the gunslinger, who takes him under his wing as his visions become useful in working out where the Man in Black is hiding.
Critics have given The Dark Tower a proper kicking – it currently boasts a feeble 16% score on Rotten Tomatoes – and its box office has been disappointing to say the least. That all does the film a disservice because it isn’t spectacularly bad and, in fact, there’s nothing spectacular about it at all. It’s a desperately mediocre trudge through a fantasy world that seems to hold rich secrets and intriguing details, just outside the grasp of the film itself. Arcel’s movie focuses solely on a generic fantasy tale of good versus evil, while there’s something more compelling and original happening outside of the frame.
The film is anchored by two of the best actors working in Hollywood today, in the shape of Elba and McConaughey. The script, credited to four separate writers, saddles both of the heavyweight acting talents with desperately bland, generic personas. Elba is the grizzled, world-weary action man who is handy with a pistol and driven by honour, while McConaughey is a trickster motivated by a desire for chaos. These archetypes are never fleshed out beyond that basic outline and, as a result, we never feel the weight of their supposedly eternal war. Supporting characters are equally mistreated, as the film blazes past en route to its finale.
The Dark Tower does, thankfully, boast some interesting action sequences. Elba’s impressive gunplay, including reloading on the move, is a delight to watch and some of the more close-quarters combat is thrillingly helmed by Arcel. Unfortunately, though, we’re never more than a few scenes away from some strained, leaden exposition that fails to carry any weight without the aid of backstory this film has no time to insert. In the quest to make this a bite-sized blockbuster, nuance and depth has been left by the wayside.
It’s clear that there’s rich mythology lurking beneath The Dark Tower but, for someone who is not intimately familiar with every page of the source text, it’s all empty depth. The film rattles through its world at a breakneck pace and therefore simply skims the intricacies of the mythos, without ever engaging with its scope. As a result, it feels like a slight and unimpressive film, rather than the much-heralded arrival of the magnum opus of one of the most famous living writers in the world.
Pop or Poop?
Two huge names at the summit of the cast list are not enough to rescue The Dark Tower from the sad mediocrity of its script, visuals and plot. It’s not a disaster, but it feels like it does a dull disservice to its celebrated source material.
Arcel needed to grab the audience by the scruff of the neck, but it’s likely few of them were still awake when the credits rolled. Strangely, 90 minutes was both too long and not long enough.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.