How do you make actors as charismatic as Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba seem disposable and uninteresting? Director Nikolaj Arcel and a trio of screenwriters find a way to do just that in their adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, a remarkably pedestrian effort that leaves you wondering how a seemingly well-cast film could go so wrong. 1 out of 5.
The Dark Tower has stood from the beginning of time, keeping a world of darkness and demons at bay. Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey)—the Man in Black—is on a mission to topple the tower, but to do so he’ll have to get past the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), whose mission is to protect the tower at all costs. Pulled into their eternal struggle is Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a New York teen whose dreams are plagued by visions of Roland, Walter and the place they inhabit, Mid-World. Defying the disbelief of his mother, stepfather and shady medical “helpers” who may not be who they say they are, Jake makes his way to Mid-World, where he meets Roland and works to keep Walter from carrying out his nefarious plans.
Until it descends into a chaotic, confusing final half-hour, The Dark Tower is tolerable if never very good, peaking early with the introduction of Jake, his troubled dreams and his skeptical but sympathetic mom (Katheryn Winnick).
The casting of McConaughey and Elba triggered excitement for those familiar with the Stephen King stories on which the film is based. However, while both actors have elevated most of the material they’ve been given in the past, they’ve also been in their share of underwhelming fare, which The Dark Tower now joins. This is less the fault of the actors than it is the uninspiring adaptation of King’s series and the flat (at best) direction that leaves the performers adrift in a muddled, sometimes incoherent film. The special effects are downright cheesy at times, and Arcel has trouble making us feel the stakes of the story, relying instead on the characters’ matter-of-fact descriptions of those stakes.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
This is a story without direct reference to God, but with plenty of references to good, evil and the supernatural. The tower is said to have stood from the beginning of time, protecting humanity from darkness and demons, which will be unleashed should the tower fall. Roland describes the Man in Black as a sorcerer, and he believes a group of “seers” can interpret Jake’s visions. But darkness isn’t something merely external to Roland, who is said to be consumed with vengeance. He makes that explicit when he says, “All that matters is that I find and kill Walter.” But Roland also is Jake’s best protection against the forces of darkness the boy sometimes doesn’t recognize. For instance, when Jake’s father appears, Roland cautions that the figure is not who he claims to be. The figure then transforms into a creature that attacks Roland and Jake. As for Walter, his malevolence is demonstrated repeatedly, often when he dictates people’s fate to them, speaking simple commands such as “stop breathing” that immediately take effect. When Walter and Roland confront each other, Walter’s words are focused on what comes after this life, telling Roland it doesn’t matter who dies first between them because “death always wins.” Added to these supernatural elements in the story is “the shine”—a form of psychic power that Jake is said to have.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “swear to God”; “who the hell are you?”
- Sexuality/Nudity: None.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Jake’s nightmares are depicted; he draws troubling images from his dreams; a couple of early earthquakes inflict minimal damage; a man’s neck is gouged during a chase; a floor opens up, and floorboards arrange themselves in such a way that they grab Jake; a woman’s face is disfigured; a man backs into another man who has a knife and stabs him; in a hospital, Roland removes an IV and leaves the facility; fighting, shooting and killing, including bullet wounds shown in the chest and forehead; we see two figures fall through a room and land with a thud; an explosion; a car hits a man
Drugs/Alcohol: Scenes in a bar, with a woman shown holding a glass of wine and with smoking paraphernalia on tables; Roland takes prescription pills, and some nearby women ask if they can “join the party.”
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: No one. Not fans of King’s stories, not fans of the actors… no one comes off well in this one.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Everyone. In a summer with strong films like Dunkirk and Baby Driver still in theaters, why bother with this misfire where the final third was so sloppy and incoherent I left the theater angry?
The Dark Tower, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, opens in theaters August 4, 2017. It runs 95 minutes and stars Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Dennis Haysbert and Jackie Earle Haley. Watch the trailer for The Dark Tower here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this “streaming” of which you speak? He’ll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of [email protected] and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: August 3, 2017
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