No dizzying heights

The Dark Tower offers little beyond its stars' performances

The Dark Tower had every reason to be good. It's an adaptation of a renowned series of novels by Stephen King. It features Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in leading roles. It's also directed (and scripted) by the man who wrote the 2009 Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as well as 2012's A Royal Affair, both stellar films.

And yet, against all conceivable odds, The Dark Tower is one of the most uninspiring films I've watched this year, with an erratic script that always teeters on the edge of becoming interesting but never quite gets there. The film certainly isn't unwatchable -- thanks to the genuinely delightful performances from Elba and McConaughey -- but it's definitely boring, the kind of film you immediately forget about once you leave the theatre.

Right from the get-go, The Dark Tower doesn't leave a good impression. After a brief and confusing opening dream sequence, we're quickly introduced to Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy who apparently dreams a lot about a tall dark tower, a man in black and a gunslinger, much to the chagrin of his mother and her boyfriend. Convinced that what he sees isn't a regular dream, Jake's suspicions are confirmed when he accidentally steps into a strange, technological portal that sends him to Mid-Earth, where he meets Roland (Elba), the gunslinger of his dreams. Together, they set off on a journey to kill Walter (McConaughey), a sorcerer who is trying to destroy the Dark Tower, a mystical structure that protects all parallel worlds from murderous demons.

To be frank, I question the need to include Jake -- or even our Keystone Earth, as the film calls it -- at all. For a good 20 minutes of the film's roughly 90-minute duration, we are stuck following Jake's tedious struggle with those around him, as his dreams and the obsessive need to draw everything in them slowly alienate him from everyone around him. It's not the most interesting way to start a film, and it certainly doesn't help that there isn't anything about Jake that would give the audience a reason to root for him, which only makes his angst towards everyone around him all the more obnoxious.

All we really know about him is that he has these weird dreams. He's merely a narrative anchor that ties the film to the world as we know it, and I feel the film actually suffers for that.

What managed to keep me awake were the sporadic cuts to Matthew McConaughey as the big, bad man in black. While the character itself falls into the dull archetype of being evil for evil's sake, McConaughey's performance instils Walter with a quiet, authoritative menace that just verges on the maniacal, giving his character an unpredictable and foreboding presence whenever he's on-screen.

Elba, meanwhile, seems to feel right at home playing the tormented Roland, the last of the Gunslingers. The equivalent of the knights of King Arthur in our world (Roland's guns are actually forged from Excalibur), Roland is now a creature of vengeance, seeking only to destroy Walter to avenge his fallen comrades. Again, similar to McConaughey's Walter, Elba's Roland is a largely clichéd, one-note character, even if Elba himself impressively sells it. Roland is merely the fallen hero who learns what it means to be a hero again, with Jake acting as the oh-so-predictable catalyst. Elba has always been good in this role in his other films, even if they actually offered room to explore the duality in the hero's morality.

The action, meanwhile, is sporadic and chaotic, though mostly unoriginal. Roland the Gunslinger certainly lives up to his moniker, though the action beyond his quick-shooting stunts is largely chaotic and unoriginal.

The bad guys, despite the sci-fi setting, still use mundane guns like normal humans, while Walter's "magicks" merely involve moving things with his mind and compelling people to stop breathing. There aren't any fun special effects or imaginative sci-fi weapons to be seen, which means the action is little more than generic shoot-outs. Roland's accuracy certainly raises some fun moments, but mostly just looks like him waving his guns around and shooting at random, though the bad guys still get shot.

There's certainly traces of potential in The Dark Tower. The world of Mid-Earth certainly has an intriguing history, even if the film doesn't spend too much time exploring it. While there is a narrative reason for Jake's existence, I found the focus on the mundane Keystone Earth to be a mistake, and the film would probably be all the better if it just took place in Mid-Earth, where we can get more of Roland and Walter.

The Dark Tower

Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey Directed by Nikolaj Arcel


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