A towering disaster
THE DARK TOWER (M, 95 MINS), DIRECTED BY NIKOLAJ ARCEL,
There is probably a pretty good film to be made from Stephen King’s series The Dark Tower. What I saw is not that film.
Or maybe The Dark Tower should never have been a film at all. A movie can just about do justice to a short novel. But an eight-volume series was crying out for the full Game of Thrones treatment, surely?
The Dark Tower sets itself up as a partial sequel to some of the events of the novels. The Gunslinger (Idris Elba, perfect) is an archetypal man-alone. The Gunslinger is on a mythic quest through a post-apocalyptic other world to protect The Dark Tower that stands at the centre of all alternate universes.
Meanwhile, in present-day New York City, 12-year-old Jake Chambers is having nightmares and drawing pictures that relate to The Gunslinger and the Tower. Of course, there are portals that connect our world to theirs and a slew of mythical evil beings living behind anonymous doorways throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Put like that, The Dark Tower, even as a standalone movie, had plenty of potential. But the script is a bloviate mutt. And no amount of flair and flourish director Nikolaj Arcel throws at the screen can save it.
A good, daft fantasy needs to establish its characters and their perils early, and save the reveal of just how silly it all is until near the end. At various times, The Dark Tower had me thinking wistfully of The Matrix, Jacob’s Ladder, Dark City and fellow King adaptation Dreamcatcher. All of which rely on porous boundaries between realities and a fight between good and evil that moves between worlds. But those films all play their cards close to their chests and keep us guessing – along with the protagonist – about what is going on.
The Dark Tower lays its idiocies out early, in a wordy and unnecessary preamble and by saddling Elba with screeds of overwritten exposition. It’s a moribund first half-hour and the film never recovers or gains any momentum. Even Matthew McConaughey turning up as the demonic Man in Black can’t get the party started.
McConaughey looks more disinterested and poorly cast here than I have ever seen him. He’s supposed to be a murderous embodiment of evil, a literally Satanic character, but plays the role as a vaguely dodgy wide-boy who occasionally just happens to kill people.
Elba is by far the best thing in the film. In the rare moments he gets to go the full John Wick, Elba looks every inch the mythic warrior he’s supposed to be. But far too often Elba is stuck just standing around explaining the plot to young Jake (Tom Taylor).
Not helping at all is the actual story. I can’t comment on the novels, but there is something tediously reactionary about seeing a film in 2017 in which every active and interesting character is male and in which every woman is either a mother, a nurse and/or a passive victim. And all this interminable chatter about how the world will end if the tower falls gets tedious, fast. It’s not long before The Dark Tower starts to sound more like an extended and needlessly complex parable of male erectile dysfunction than it does a compelling, or even coherent, film. As a smartly written, mildly updated 12-part TV series, I would happily give The Dark Tower another chance.
As a movie, I was surprised to learn the film I saw was only 95 minutes long. It truly seemed much longer. - Graeme Tuckett
Even the charisma of Idris Elba can’t save The Dark Tower.