This past weekend The Dark Tower opened as a much-anticipated film based on the beloved series of novels, by Stephen King, of the same name. However, when I went to look up where/which book(s) exactly the film was inspired by, I found a variety different answers; that it was a sequel, it was supposed to be The Dark Tower VII, and certain factions even critiqued the film as not encompassing all eight novels. The Dark Tower is supposed to be a canonical sequel to the novels, meaning that this is new canon to the original universe, so really we might be taking it entirely the wrong way.
The plot is as follows: 11-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor, Legends, Doctor Foster) finds himself the victim of intense hellish visions that revolve around a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey, you know who he is) trying to destroy a tower that will bring forth the end of the world, as well as the Gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba, again self-explanatory) who opposes him. Although no one believes him, Jake finally discovers a portal to a place called Mid-World and joins up with a reluctant Roland as they attempt to stop the Man in Black from taking down the Tower that protects the universe.
I will admit that I have not read, or was even really aware of the universe that King created for The Dark Tower novels, so I will be critiquing it as a standalone movie since I do not have any reference material to compare it to. Take that as you will. As a movie, The Dark Tower stands well on its own. It’s an entertaining, fast-paced drama that pits two charismatic adversaries against each other in a compelling battle over the universe with a gifted boy thrust between them. The premise is well-established and executed, leaving me as a viewer on the edge of my seat for much of it, gripped at what was to come.
Some of its strongest moments of come entirely from its two, strong opposing leads as well as a fantastical universe that doesn’t bog the audience down with details. Elba and McConaughey came to play in The Dark Tower and their fantastic performances highlight their own individual talents, while simultaneously bringing out the best in each other. Elba is already well-known for his serious and elegant performances in such films as Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Beasts of No Nation so his depiction of the last living Gunslinger was deeply complex.
After the first few scenes, Elba sells Roland so well that I felt I knew Roland as a character; his motivations, his remarkable abilities, and the inner turmoil he is facing. Then, as the antithesis to Elba, McConaughey plays a sinister, wholly evil character that is terrifying and inflicts cruelty wherever he goes. By mid-way of the film I was halfway convinced that the Man in Black would be unstoppable by our heroes since he could kill by just calmly speaking.
Furthermore, the fantastical universe created by The Dark Tower was presented in a unique way that showcased it while not boring audiences with too many details. For instance, while traveling to Mid-World, Jake notes the despair and destruction throughout the land. Instead of droning on about how the world got to the apparent apocalypse the audience is instead given contextual clues such as fallen buildings, people living primitively, and brief allusions to a war.
In the short span of The Dark Tower (the movie clocks in at just 95 minutes) little to no time is wasted on details that a viewer can interpret from the scenes. The idea seems to be that the movie is not reinventing the wheel and in a time where we have seen many apocalyptic movies, the mere presence of characteristics to suggest one is enough. Now, for people who are knowledgeable about the books this could be disappointing since nothing is really explained, but nothing is shown in The Dark Tower that is confusing for newcomers either. They didn’t reinvent the wheel here so instead of bogging down in details most of the film is spent on plot and character development.
Overall, if you are looking for a movie to break up the usual humdrum of summer films then I highly recommend The Dark Tower. I was entertained the entire time, compelled by the story, and was sold on the characters to the point that I forgot McConaughey usually plays a goofy guy. This film does have a cliched ending, but honestly after the intense tragedy and dread throughout The Dark Tower, the upswing was pretty refreshing. Ignore the non-hype and check it out.
The Dark Tower is available now in theaters.
WICKED RATING 7/10
Director(s): Nikolaj Arcel
Writer(s): Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner
Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Studio/ Production Co: Sony Pictures Entertainment, Media Rights Capital, Imagine Entertainment
Release date: August 4, 2017
Length: 95 min