Film Review: The Dark Tower

Idris Elba tries manfully to save this Stephen King adaption. Anna Stopford reviews…

Based on Stephen King’s eight book series, the story of The Dark Tower spans across two parallel worlds: our own, and an apocalyptic alternative universe. The dark tower stands at the centre of the multiverse, keeping a sinister darkness at bay. Our protagonist, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), an ordinary kid from New York, has recurring nightmares envisioning the troubled alternative realm; he sees the evil ‘Man in Black’ Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), a sorcerer who is attempting to destroy the tower and let darkness reign. Following his nightmarish visions, Jake finds a portal connecting both worlds, where he meets Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), ‘the gunslinger’, an ancient protector of the tower, turned vengeful vigilante. Predictably, the unlikely duo set out to defeat Walter.

Essential to a fantasy film’s success is its underpinning premise; unfortunately, The Dark Tower’s somewhat shaky plot lacks originality, leading to a half-hearted engagement in the story. The film seems to be comprised almost entirely from hackneyed fantasy tropes, namely: the bright young ‘chosen one’ with extraordinary powers, a vision that is scorned, haggard villagers, an ominous tower, a bohemian ‘seer’, complete, of course, with a nosebleed induced by mental exertion. Finally, the limited character development is deployed with lazy devices; we know from one creased photograph that Jake is mourning the death of his father, and a single flippant comment is all that is needed to identify his step-father as ‘the jerk’.  The film is of course intended for a pre-teen audience with a less critical eye, who may enjoy the story at face-value, but I still suspect it won’t leave a lasting impression, as there is nothing distinctly new about it.

On the other hand, the awe-inspiring South African landscape used as a filming location provides some magical alien landscapes for an otherworldly feel, and the CGI monsters and interesting costumes transports the audience into a mythical realm which provokes the imagination. The action sequences are well put together, particularly a scene unfolding in a dark and eerie forest, which was tense and potentially frightening to younger children.

Ultimately though, the clichéd plot and hurried pace leave a film that even Hollywood giants Elba and McConaughey are unable to salvage, though not for lack of trying. Elba, in particular, is a great casting choice – his charisma makes the gunslinger effortlessly cool, and his deep, gruff voice is perfectly suited for the familiar role of the surly lone-ranger. He brings comic relief with his delivery as the bizarre outsider during his bewildering stint in New York, which is a highlight of the film. McConaughey, too, tries his utmost to bring life to the creepy and maleficent Walter, with his characteristic southern drawl. However, poor writing, rather than performance, prevents ‘The Man in Black’ being a particularly sinister villain. He is given a lot of screen time, eroding a sense of mystery, and does a lot of his own dirty work, which suggests a lack of threatening authoritarian power. Finally, his magic ability to kill by simply instructing people to ‘stop breathing’ comes across as more ludicrous than it does scary. Newcomer Taylor offers an adequate, yet generic, lead performance.

Overall, there is a disappointing sense that there was something missing in this film, and by attempting to cram eight books worth of material into 95 minutes, it felt rushed and underdeveloped.


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