“The Dark Tower” is a film adaptation of Stephen King’s series of novels by the same name. It stars respected actors such as Idris Elba (“Luther”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”), as well as English child actor Tom Taylor (“Doctor Foster”), and was intended to launch a film and television franchise.
“The Dark Tower” is an awkward film to review because although it gets almost everything wrong its inadequacy isn’t offensive. I wasn’t upset or angered by the mistakes that director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair”) made; I was merely disinterested because his inability to tell an interesting story was clear from the outset.
This film had potential, but to get the most out of it there was always going to have to be a degree of invention on the part of the director. Unfortunately, this movie is completely devoid of anything resembling an original thought, and any potential that the narrative had was monumentally squandered from the moment the movie began. From the outset the presentation was immensely uninspired, lacking any kind of imagination or personality, and I didn’t feel as though Arcel had any love for the material that he was adapting.
Characters and concepts were thrust at the audience without so much as an inkling as to why we should care about them, and every aspect of the movie felt like a rehash of elements taken from better films. The characters are just there, much like everything else in the film, and there’s nothing special or interesting about them to create a feeling of investment.
The protagonist is an eleven-year-old boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who for some unknown reason has the ability to see into another world (Mid-World) through his dreams. Due to nothing other than narcissism Jake comes to the conclusion that his dreams have significance, believing that the events taking place in his visions are causing earthquakes in the real world, and we as an audience are expected to believe this.
Jake is immediately dislikeable because the writers don’t give us a reason to sympathise with him when people dismiss his warnings. There’s nothing exceptional about him which dictates that we should believe what he’s saying – other than the fact that we’ve read the film’s synopsis – and his ramblings are consistent with those of a child with an overactive imagination! When reading a book this isn’t overly jarring because you’re constantly confined to one characters’ perspective and you can identify with their situation because you’re explicitly told how they’re feeling, but in a movie you have to make a character likeable before expecting people to care about what’s happening to them.
Jake’s mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), is a much more relatable character than her son because she responds to his hyperactive imaginings in a logical way… by trying to put him in an asylum. Jake is being irrational and he needs help, so when Laurie tries to get him the help that he needs we don’t feel sorry for him or hope that he can somehow make an escape!
The reason that I’m making this point is that the first act ends with Jake running from monsters pretending to be workers from a psychiatric facility, in a scene which should’ve been triumphant for the character. However, because we don’t like or care about Jake we don’t want him to run away; we want him to get caught so that we can enjoy some action in a movie which lacks any kind of emotion.
Herein lies the main problem of “The Dark Tower”, which is that the plot consistently takes the most boring avenue towards its conclusion. The most exciting direction that the plot could’ve taken at this point would’ve been to have Jake wheeled off to the asylum by the monsters because this would’ve created tension and allowed us to get a proper look at the villains of the film, thus giving us a reason to root for the protagonist. Instead, Jake ran from the supposedly threatening monsters and found a way to Mid-World on his own, rather than simply being taken there by the monsters and then escaping their grasps.
These kinds of issues are present throughout the first act, with the set-up of the film asking questions which are never answered. The start of the film could’ve been extended by another 30 minutes and it wouldn’t have suffered as a whole, and I have to ask myself what the writers thought they were achieving by skipping character development in the first act in order to focus on lacklustre action during the second and third acts.
Another issue which arises right at the start of the movie pertains to the titular tower. The tower is nothing more than a McGuffin and it doesn’t feel significant because we have no idea where it is geographically or why it requires a child to destroy it. Who made it? Why is it the key to the universe? Why should I care about it? If I don’t know anything about it and also have no reason to empathise with the film’s protagonist then how am I supposed to become even minimally invested in the narrative?
The Man in Black (the film’s main villain, played by Matthew McConaughey) is also underdeveloped and never feels like a threat because he’s always outside the main story. McConaughey’s performance is fine for what it is, but calling a performance fine in this film isn’t a compliment. I was constantly aware of the fact that I was watching McConaughey play a character, and at no point did I look at him and feel intimidated or enthralled.
The sad thing about “The Dark Tower” is that none of the performances from the main cast are actually awful. They’re definitely bland, but none of the actors are afforded the opportunity to be anything more than that because they’re stunted by a woefully ordinary script!
At the end of the day there’s nothing exceptional or even passable about “The Dark Tower”. It takes liberties with its story, the cinematography is uninspired, and the characters are underdeveloped. The material lends itself to an entertaining film – there’s a road-movie, a fantasy epic, and even a young adult film within this awfully tedious science-fiction western – and any one of those movies would’ve been infinitely better than this one. The only positive thing that I can say about “The Dark Tower” is that it wasn’t compelling enough to frustrate me with its inadequacy, which isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation. Do yourself a favour and don’t bother paying to see this movie – if you’re interested in the material then there are eight books written by a brilliant author that you can read at home.