Uninspired but Easy To Follow
God bless those who’ve waited patiently since the announcement of The Dark Tower’s big screen adaptation. You deserve a medal. The project has been gestating in one form or another for the last decade or so, and after numerous fits, starts, vicious rumors, crew changes, and an untold myriad of production snafus, The Dark Tower is finally ready for public consumption. Or is it?
Rather than the faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s eight-book genre-bending series fans have been waiting for, The Dark Tower is instead an uninspired affair that feels more like the rough outline of a YA novel. It never plows any new ground, none of its characters are interesting, and nothing about the story seems very compelling. And no, slipping in numerous references to other Stephen King adaptations doesn’t make it clever. To its credit though, the story is actually quite cohesive and rather easy to follow. With lowered expectations, it can even be called watchable. But it is never epic and that’s what is so heartbreaking.
We learn that a very bad man dressed in black (Matthew McConaughey) is kidnapping children and strapping them into chairs that suck out their life force and convert it into very powerful energy. The resulting energy beam then shoots up into the sky before hitting a large black tower. The damage to the tower causes large earthquakes across the many universes. It can even be felt on Earth where a young pre-teen named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) realizes the earthquakes have something to do with the vivid images that have been haunting his mind. His room is littered with the charcoal sketches of the black tower, a villain in black, a heroic gunslinger, and even a mysterious mansion which he thinks holds the key to finding out the truth behind the haunting images.
Naturally, Jake’s mom (Katheryn Winnick) and step-dad (Karl Thaning) think the boy’s oddity is caused by the grief over the death of his firefighter father, so when state mental hospital employees come to take Jake away, he notices they aren’t who they say they are. He has seen people like them before in his visions. Of course his parents don’t believe him, so he escapes to a creepy mansion in Brooklyn where he discovers a portal to a different world. As he passes through the portal, Jake encounters a duster-wearing gunslinger (Idris Elba) who calls himself Roland Deschain. Together, the two travel the universe searching for the man in black.
The gunslinger, as it turns out, is the last of a breed of knights who have been tracking down the man in black since forever. Both have some sort of special powers that aren’t fully explained, but let’s just say they can do things like stop bullets, hit targets without looking, and summon an enemy’s death with the twitch of the hand. The gunslinger hopes to prevent the destruction of the dark tower, which we learn, is what keeps the balance of power between the world of good and evil.
That’s a lot to cram into a single movie, especially one that runs a brisk 95 minutes, and director Nicolaj Arcel doesn’t do a very good job of it. Working from a script he co-wrote along with three others including Akiva Goldsman (Insurgent), Arcel's storytelling is choppy and a bit uneven – most likely the unintended by-product of the film’s messy production history.
Perhaps The Dark Tower is the result of too many cooks in the kitchen. Or, maybe Hollywood’s penchant for filmmaking-by-committee has destroyed yet another great idea. Who knows? Regardless, The Dark Tower has no bite. Its characters are so shallowly drawn, we have no interest in who wins or loses. And in a fight between good and evil, viewer apathy always spells doom.
The Dark Tower’s hopes of creating a far-reaching universe have collapsed. There’s now nothing left to ward off the evil of colossal disinterest and poor box office performance.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated “PG-13” for thematic material including sequences of violence and action.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.