Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel, Stephen King (based of the novels by)
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Rather than spoon-feed the viewer, The Dark Tower ensures that they starve, choosing to confuse from the outset and providing little more than some visual treats to compensate.
Whereas many fantasy epics suffer from too much exposition, Arcel’s adaption of The Dark Tower actually suffers from the reverse. Going in, those who have not read Stephen King’s novel series will know very little, and The Dark Tower makes almost no attempt to address this, no time devoted at all to orientating the viewer. Perhaps aiming for mysteriousness, The Dark Tower has completely overshot and landed squarely in incomprehension. Reversely, those who are familiar with The Dark Tower books will notice a crude condensing of King’s novels into a cruelly witless interpretation/continuation of the expansive series. As a result it is a difficult film to enjoy, whatever level of understanding you have.
It is a shame, because The Dark Tower has the potential to be a brilliantly stylish fantasy adventure. It has a wonderful blend of pokey Western settlements and futuristic portals, ornate revolvers contrasting with alien technology. Its look is perhaps its strongest element, but even this isn’t fully explored, only giving the viewer a brief taste of what can be done in this fantasy world. Frustratingly, the film only starts to show off what it can do towards its end, some brilliant cinematography and imagination resulting in a dynamic face-off between the two leads - but even that is over as soon as it gets started.
The cast do as well as can be expected in such a monstrously undefined film. McConaughey is deliciously sinister as the psychopathic Man in Black, despite being given no time whatsoever to make his character anything other than two-dimensional. Elba also struggles with this, not given anywhere near enough screen-time or scope to build up a sense of accessibility with the audience, making it difficult to identify with his pain or anguish. Taylor does brilliantly in his debut film role as the misunderstood lead, Jake Chambers, single-handed bringing some substance and fervour to the film.
All considered, The Dark Tower’s most fundamental flaw might simply be a lack of ambition. The film appears to lack any drive to do this story justice, seeming to want to tick this particular story off of the list before moving on to the next one. Trying to cram any novel into 90 minutes of footage is a challenge at the best of times, but to try and create a competent continuation of a 8 part book series (by Stephen King, no less) with only an hour and half in which to do it is downright lunacy - such a decision suggests one of two things; a) hugely poor judgment on what was necessary to make this film work or b) a real apathy to get this film to excel. My money is on the latter.
In one line: In a foolish attempt to constrain this story to one (short) film, The Dark Tower has turned out messy and ill-defined, lacking the ambition to explore this story as fully as it deserves.