Film Review: The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower  is not a movie where you can leave your brain at the door and be bombarded with special effects spectacle. It demands your attention and perhaps the cost of a second ticket to see the detail you missed on the first go.

It’s a book to move adaptation, the starting point to Stephen King‘s eight book epic, so it has a lot on its shoulders. Can it possibly live up to the expectations of fans who have conjured these worlds in their own imaginations since 1984 when the original novel came out? Probably not. But what it can be is entertaining and present the first look at a world with a huge amount of celluloid potential.

Not only that, casting Idris Elba as The Gunslinger (AKA Rowland Deschain) is a game changer in the same way as Charlize Theron‘s Imperator Furiosa was in Mad Max: Fury Road. Action/adventure and science fiction (indeed, Hollywood as a whole) is stuffed with white males with anger issues. There’s only one other black hero as a primary character (not secondary like War Machine and Black Panther in The Avengers movies) and that’s Netflix’s Luke Cage (Mike Colter). We need many more.

Rowland is chasing the Man in Black (AKA, Walter), played with snarling southern charm by Matthew McConaughey. He’s a sorcerer  who wants to bring down The Dark Tower of the movie’s title and release hell dimensions on our universe. The attacks ripple across realities, including our own. It’s in New York where tween Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is beginning to realise the cause of the earthquakes that have become a blight on the city. He has dreams of Rowland and Walters ongoing battle.The Dark Tower poster

To some, Jake’s journey to find Rowland relegates the movie to merely the “Young Adult” genre, yet one can easily draw parallels to when we first met Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in Star Wars. The difference is that Jake is on the ball from the moment we see him, and he’s prepared to put his money where his mouth is when he first beats up a bully in school, then makes a break for it over rooftops to escape Walter’s minions. It took Luke two droids, meeting an old man, and having his aunt and uncle burned to a crisp before he stepped up and stopped whining about joining the Rebels.

The Dark Tower is not without its issues though, with the main one being a paltry 95 minutes running time. One can understand the producers compromise, however. The Dark Tower is a franchise starter with only the fans of the book to back it up, so there’s far less likelihood of bums on seats like with Yet Another Batman Movie. And while some book to movie adaptations have gone well, others have performed abysmally.

The script (by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and the movie’s director Nikolaj Arcel) also has its detractors, and there’s a sense that we’ve been dropped into the middle of a story with a beginning and an end yet to be revealed. That said, world building takes time, and dedicating movie length to dull exposition is a poor way to do business. Therefore, the story has to be as streamlined as possible. We have a tower, we have an enemy, and we have a broken hero waiting for a spark of hope. The story built up around these three core precepts is European in flavour; it doesn’t hold your hand. The dialogue is spartan; you have to pay attention to it to get the backstory, much like that of the original inspiration for the books, Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. No one could accuse Clint Eastwood‘s Man with No Name as being the talkative type. The visuals too give flesh to the losses Rowland has endured, and the destruction wrought on the worlds touched by The Man in Black and the as yet unexplained Crimson King for whom Walter works.

The Dark Tower has the guts to show a story that’s not the same safe VFX laden superhero retread, which might be good for the investors bottom line but which makes science fiction boring. The genre needs movies like The Dark Tower to shake things up, to restore some mystery. It doesn’t tie things up in a neat bow, and it takes the chance that you’ll want more.

The Dark Tower is in cinemas from 17th August through Sony Pictures.

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