Movie Review: ‘The Dark Tower’ a Total Disaster

Movie Review: ‘The Dark Tower’ a Total Disaster

The Dark Tower might win the award for earliest introduction of the Pillar of Light: not 30 seconds into the film, sirens go off and a child is strapped to a dentist’s chair as their brain power is used to send a ray of light up into the heavens.

It’s stock imagery typically applied to the climax of any film when creatively bankrupt filmmakers need a quick shortcut to convey a world-destroying threat. Here, the beam travels from a young boy’s mind to the titular Dark Tower, where it, uh, causes some damage.

That’s bad, we presume, and later on the movie tells us that the destruction of the Dark Tower will not only bring an end to our world but all other worlds that surround it (of which, we only see one or two). The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) is behind the attack on the tower, together with a team of faceless scientists and technicians who kidnap children from various dimensions of suitable brainpower who can unleash the tower-destroying light beams. Or something like that.

Why does the Man in Black want to destroy the universe, of which he is a part? We don’t know, and never find out. I haven’t read the eight-novel series of books by Stephen King condensed to make a movie that has been in development for more than a decade, but Wikipedia synopses are no help. It’s the first in a long line of inexplicable, unexplained events that occur throughout the rest of the movie.

McConaughey’s character appears to be some sort of all-powerful God, making his decision to destroy the worlds he towers over even more curious. His powers include:

  • Telepathy; he appears in the main character’s minds, usually as a distraction
  • Telekinesis; he can control rocks and other objects and toss them at our heroes at will
  • Teleportation; he can travel through dimensions with the use of portals
  • Mind control; he whispers “kill yourselves” and his underlings act accordingly
  • Body control; he whispers “die” and people immediately do so (then why bother with the mind control?)
  • He is all-seeing, through a crystal globe that can view all characters and dimensions
  • He has lightning-fast reflexes that allow him to dodge bullets
  • And he can catch bullets mid-air and throw them back at the shooter

This would seem to make him a difficult adversary for The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), who doesn’t want to preserve the universe, even though he is part of it, but instead exact revenge upon the Man for the death of his father (Dennis Haysbert).

The Gunslinger has but one power: he’s really good with guns, like Wanted-style good. He can reload his weapon by tossing the ammo up in the air and catching it with his revolver, and can listen real hard and blindly fire, striking his target through sound alone. But when his opponent can catch bullets in mid-air, well, I’m wondering just how useful these skills will be. I mean, if the Man can catch bullets with his hands, he might as well be able to catch them with his chest, too.

But The Gunslinger can also fire one bullet, and then another, and manipulate time and space so that the second bullet can ricochet off the wall and hit the first bullet. And maybe, just maybe, this minor distraction is the Man in Black’s one true weakness and the universe can be saved after all.

Most of The Dark Tower focuses on neither The Gunslinger nor The Man in Black but on lonely New York teenager Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who can see both characters and their worlds through his dreams, as well as the Brooklyn-based portal that can will him there. Now he’s just a sketch and a Reddit upload away from finding the portal in waking life and beginning a fantastic journey.

Rather than the work of horror maestro King, most of this feels like third-rate Young Adult material; the NYC setting, the main character’s relationship with mom and stepdad, the otherworldly characters only he can see and dimensions he accesses all heavily reminded me of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, a failed Y.A. adaptation that shouldn’t be a reference point here.

One of the author’s most best-received works, ten years of development saw the potential franchise pass through the hands of J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard before falling to Nikolaj Arcel, the Danish director of the period drama A Royal Affair. Arcel also co-wrote a revised version of screenplays from Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner with Anders Thomas Jensen.

The result is a complete mess. At no point did I understand exactly what was happening in The Dark Tower, nor, perhaps more importantly, why any of it was happening. That includes my decision to watch the movie in the first place.

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