'The Dark Tower' offers an underwhelming narrative wrapped in a fascinating world
The Dark Tower
3 out of 5 Stars
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel, Stephen King (novels)
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Genre: Sci-Fi. Western, Action
Rated: PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.
Synopsis: A Dark Tower at center of the universe keeps the evil and darkness at bay. Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), the man in black, is trying to destroy it. Only Roland Deschain (Ibris Elba), the last Gunslinger, and Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a particularly talented boy with unique powers, stand in his way.
Review: I didn’t know what to expect from “The Dark Tower.” I haven’t read Stephen King’s novels and only had a passing familiarity with what the books were about. Still, I was rather excited to see Matthew McConaughey and Ibris Elba square off to determine the fate of the universe.
McConaughey and Elba don’t disappoint, but, like “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” “The Dark Tower” suffers because the narrative isn’t remotely as interesting as the world that surrounds it.
There is a world similar to ours called Mid-World that exists on the other side of a series of portals. That world was technologically advanced in many ways, but an apocalyptic event has forced them to revert to a simpler way of life where most are farmers. There is a sense of magic and wonder, a traditional battle between the dark and the light. The dark currently has the upper hand. I love the wasteland, the minimalist design of the remaining technology and general foreign feeling of the world beyond. I’m intrigued by the characters that wear fake human faces to cover up their true appearances.
Part of the problem is that we just don’t know Jake Chambers, the film’s young protagonist, at all. Yes, we know that he is living a fairly miserable life, is haunted by dreams that he considers to be visions while the rest of the world tries to convince him that he’s just crazy. But who is Jake Chambers? Or more importantly, who was Jake Chambers before the visions started? What were his passions before he became obsessed with his shadowy dreams? Was he a talented artist that loved to paint happy little trees under cotton candy clouds? Why should I like him? Give me 10 minutes of character development and I might find myself invested in the kid’s future. There’s also a rather traumatic moment in the back half of the story that should have been given more attention. It’s one of the few scenes where the audience is given the chance to really connect with Jake, but high drama of the moment doesn’t last beyond the one scene.
The same goes for Roland Deschain. We’re told about some of the great things that Roland has done, things that sound rather impressive and cinematic, but we don’t actually see these events despite the fact that Jake references seeing them in his dreams. I don’t need to know everything about Roland, but the audience should know as much about him as Jake does. If Jake dreamed it, the audience should be able to dream it with him.
Walter O’Dim is best left shrouded in his mystery.
Within the narrative there are some timeline issues that aren’t exactly explained. Does Jake dream of the past, the future or the present? Does time in Roland’s world operate differently than it does in Jake’s?
I love the action of the film, particularly scenes where Roland is allowed to show off his gun skills in a way that marries the best of John Woo’s films with elements from “Wanted.” The art design is strong, there are nods to “Stargate” and various other sci-fi properties, but the various cultural mysteries keep the similarities from being a distraction.
“The Dark Tower” isn’t a terrible film; it’s just an underwhelming experience that is filled with unfulfilled potential. I want to go back to Mid-World, I want to explore its history and origins. I want to understand the battle between Roland and Walter. I don’t care if Jake is there.
That’s the film’s biggest issue.
If I prefer the world and supporting characters far more than I care for the protagonist, then you’ve failed as a filmmaker to deliver the movie you set out to make. The blame rests on the writers, the director and possibly the editor as well.
As a side note, fans of Stephen King will have fun with all the visual references to other King books and films.