The Dark Tower, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, is a film that spends 95 minutes desperately trying to set up and explain its world, its characters and the rules that bind them, and yet after all that, I am still no clearer as to what the point of any of it was. There is no fun, excitement or intrigue in this film – that was bled out of the film a long time ago. There is just failed exposition and some truly odd performances from actors who are usually dependable. So let’s get onto dissecting this film, through my review, and see what it is that doesn’t work about it.
Jake – played by Tom Taylor – holds within him the power to bring down the Dark Tower. The Man in Black – played by Matthew McConaughey – hunts for Jake, as he wants to bring down the tower and unleash evil throughout all the worlds that the tower keeps safe. The only person left to help Jake is the final Gunslinger – played by Idris Elba – who not only wants to keep the tower from falling but also wants revenge for the death of his father, at the hands of The Man in Black. It’s your classic good vs evil story.
I feel like I’ve been hearing about attempts to make Stephen King’s beloved Dark Tower series into a film franchise, for quite some time. But either directors have dropped out (J.J. Abrams attempted at one point to make the books into films) or the studio has gone cold on the idea, only to be interested again. It’s been a long, difficult road for The Dark Tower and now that it is finally here, wow, what a disappointment it is.
It’s pretty incredible that with everything that the writers and the director had at their disposal, they were still able to make a bland, boring film. For 95 minutes, The Dark Tower tries desperately to inform you of the lore of its world and then make you interested enough to want to stick around and be a part of its journey. It failed at both of those things.
The film is always moving (which is fine) but in that perpetual movement it is always trying to set up and explain something to you. ‘This is The Man in Black, he can do this and he’s evil and here’s why he is evil. This is the Tower, it does this and here’s why it does this.’ It is forever trying to make you understand the point of everything.
Now that’s fine. A film needs to establish its rules, its characters etc. It needs to make it clear to the audience why they should care, why they should invest. The problem in this film, however, is that it completely fails to explain anything or make you care about any of it.
After leaving the cinema, my friend and I spent quite a bit of time trying to make sense of the film. Breaking down the many points that simply didn’t make sense or were just never explained. A perfect example would be when a character blurts out that The Man in Black can see Jake’s shine. Nothing about this statement made sense. It was never specifically mentioned that Jake could shine or even what the hell shine meant. It was just dropped in and from then on, the film utilised it to clean up the loose ends that it had left strewn around; like Jake being able to control portals or resist The Man in Black’s lazer machine. It somehow spent all that time and effort to explain things and yet I still didn’t understand the majority of what was going on, nor did I care too.
And so, all that time spent with scenes of exposition (that went on and on) it inevitably meant that everything else around was left to struggle and fade into obscurity. I am primarily talking about the characters in the film. There is a good lead performance from Tom Taylor, who despite the many failings of the film, made a respectful effort of trying to lead the film with some heart. He was unexpectedly the best part of the film for me, however, despite his efforts, he was still let down by a film that didn’t know how to properly handle anything at its disposal.
Speaking of mishandling: I don’t know who was the primary motivator behind Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba’s characters/performances, but these usually stellar actors, were pretty terrible in this film. McConaughey was an odd, plastic looking creep who felt out-of-place in the film, and Elba was a flat, grumbling bore who never did anything interesting. How can you have two characters with names like: The Man in Black and The Gunslinger and then fail to make them interesting or entertaining characters. In my personal opinion, part of the blame lies with the actors and the other part with the director. Neither seemed to know what they were doing and it all resulted in performances that crumbled next to a young actor (Tom Taylor) who seemed to understand his part and played it to the best of his ability.
Other than Tom Taylor’s performance, the only thing that ever properly gained my appreciation was the work that was put into some of the set design. It wasn’t something that was always present – mainly because the harsh streets of New York (a place the film spends too much time in) are at this point stale to my eyes – but when the film would travel to fictional locations, I always enjoyed looking around at the sets that had been constructed. There was a refreshing lack of CGI used (or at least, it looked like there wasn’t much, but technology makes it more difficult to notice these days). Either way, appreciating the craft of the people behind the scenes was something I gained enjoyment from, as it’s something that can quite often go unnoticed.
But ultimately, what you end up with is a film that is completely lacking in anything truly stimulating. I sat there in an almost sedated like state as this film passed by. Nothing ever interested me or excited me or had me wanting to care about what was happening. Somehow the film takes a fantastical idea and cool sounding characters and delivers something truly lifeless.
So, my final verdict on The Dark Tower is that it simply doesn’t work. Now, I do want to say that the film wasn’t offensively bad. I at no point felt angry or insulted by what I had sat through (unlike some other recent films) it’s just that it is a film that made no impact on me. Other than the discussion I had with my friend after leaving the cinema and the writing of this review, I haven’t thought about the film; it has never randomly popped into my head and caused me to reminisce about a particularly enjoyable moment. It simply faded into the back of my mind, to never be properly thought about again.
And so, I will not be recommending The Dark Tower. It simply isn’t worth your time, to go see this film – even with it only being 95 minutes. If you’re desperate to see it (for some reason) then I’d suggest waiting until it comes out on VOD. Otherwise, look for something else to spend your time and money on, at the cinema.
What did you think of The Dark Tower? Let me know that and anything else in the comments down below. I would also really appreciate it if you were to follow my blog directly and gift me a wee follow over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. I’ll leave you by saying thank you and that I hope you have a brilliant day, filled with good films.