Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Runtime: 95 child-torturing minutes
I saw The Dark Tower in cinemas. Well, let me just start by saying Idris Elba’s performance is great. I’ve been a fan ever since he played Stringer Bell in The Wire. If you didn’t know, The Wire is still the greatest television show of all-time. I’ve also enjoyed Elba in Luther, where tiny bits of light creep up through his performance, and break into a nihilistic world where everyone is capable of murder. If you see The Dark Tower, think of it as casting a vote for him to get more and more leading roles. He is worth that.
Matthew McConaughey does a good job chewing scenes up as the villain. I can’t remember his name. For the purposes of a review, I should probably look it up. It’s really not worth it. He’s “The Man in Black” or something. My favourite thing he does is when poses like a crab in a fight scene where he uses magic to throw rocks at Idris Elba. Seriously, that stance cracked me up.
The plot: There’s a tower in the centre of the universe. It’s a dark tower. It protects the universe, but it is said that the mind of a child can bring it down. The people who build these things should really stop giving villains ideas. Maybe it’s not under warranty? Most people would not destroy a tower that keeps the universe safe, but there are some aliens who would. They are led by crab-posing Matthew McConaughey, who can make people stop breathing just by asking them to.
On Earth, there is a boy named Jake. He has dreams that he’s sure aren’t dreams about these events. He really doesn’t want the tower to be destroyed. He wakes up from a not-a-dream and sees his mother standing in the doorway. She is played by Katheryn Winnick, with a head of messy-styled hair, relaxed sleepwear, arms folded, leaning against the frame. We know instantly that she’s “sexy single mom”. She’s dating a dude who seems like a jerk, until we consider that Jake is a bit of a weiny, and logic would dictate he needs the psychiatric help they consider getting him. But we’re led to believe the only reason he wants to do that is to get to have louder sex with sexy single mom.
I should reveal now that I have not read The Dark Tower book series by Stephen King. I have friends that have, and they assure me that it is good. An adaptation has been in the works for years, with numerous names attached. It’s gone from J.J. Abrams to Ron Howard, and now it has ended up with Nikolaj Arcel. There is a lot of emotional stock in this property. Perhaps someone who values the books will find that this film is enough for them, but it seems the wrong sort of fandom to be pandered to with mere lip-service—I imagine that the more you love the King novels, the more you will feel let down by this stock representation of ideas you love.
And stock representation is what you get. From the moment we are hit with Katheryn Winnick’s instantly recognisable sexy single mom, the film follows the familiar beats of any blockbuster you can imagine, and rushes right to them. The bad guy kills characters who don’t matter (and burns an ally’s cheek for no good reason, as far as the film explains), and the good guys form their bond over a series of hostile encounters, that seem to be happen one after another, with maybe a few lines of dialogue to express how tough that last fight was. It’s not poorly made. Some of the CGI can’t keep up with the scripted action and high definition, but that’s not a unique problem in today’s cinema. And The Dark Tower knows exactly what it intends to be: an American summer blockbuster. Plot, character, and pace are not as important as getting to the next scene where an alien attacks, someone has a spooky dream, or a laser beam flies into a tower. I can see where King would have tapped into some nightmarish qualities in his novels—simple things like children being harvested; losing your father in a battle with aliens; or the impending destruction with the universe. The film technically incorporates them, but has no interest in letting them breathe as potentially harrowing, or even just fantastic, themes. I’d honestly rather we spent more time with sexy single mom.
There were incidents that were clearly included to remind me of the book. “All Hail the Crimson King”, for example, is scrawled on a wall at some point. I have enough friends into the series to inform me that this means something, and you can tell by the way that it is filmed with a wink and a nod that it’s alluding to something even without that knowledge. Ultimately, it means nothing to the narrative of the film, however, and that is what it is in front of me. I could tell that I wasn’t getting the full buffet, but what I got didn’t make me hungry for what I was missing.
The legendary Gene Siskel used to have a philosophy he would implement when reviewing a film. He’d ask whether or not a film that featured the cast members sitting around talking would be better than the actual film produced. I can safely say that not only would I rather watch Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey having a chat over coffee together, but I’d rather see them sitting together in silence. There are better options playing right now. Whenever you read this. There has to be. Unless it’s either this or Transformers: The Dark Knight. At least this one has Idris Elba.