The Dark Tower

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

Nikolaj Arcel

Starring

Idris Elba Matthew McConaughey Tom Taylor

Anticipation.

The one has been in the works for a long time, which isn’t usually a good sign.

Enjoyment.

Not even bad enough to be fun.

In Retrospect.

Surely one of the least memorable King adaptations there is.

Idris Elba plays a cosmic gunslinger in this tame adaptation of Stephen King’s fantasy saga.

In a normal year, a high-profile Stephen King adaptation would be awaited with some degree of anticipation. But this is no normal year. The Dark Tower, a feature film based on King’s eight-book fantasy series, is just one of seven adaptations of his work set for 2017.

There’s a tenth Children of the Corn movie arriving soon on home video, while Netflix has promised feature-length versions of ‘Gerald’s Game’ and ‘1922′ before the year is out. On network television The Mist series premiered in June, while a miniseries based on King’s terrific crime novel ‘Mr Mercedes’ has aired in the US. Above all else, of course, is IT, which promises to be a terrifying update of the cult 1990 miniseries.

Such a wealth of King content presents no small challenge for a film to make its mark, and for a time Nikolaj Arcel’s mega-budget The Dark Tower seemed a promising contender, especially with two majors stars in tow. Yet it now remains entirely in the hands of Bill Skarsgård’s new scary clown to do justice to King’s work at the cinema, as The Dark Tower is nothing short of a total misfire.

While wild and over-the-top King adaptations are often the most fun (and, indeed, most faithful to his work), The Dark Tower commits the far worse crime of turning what could have been an epic, strange adventure into something completely devoid of the author’s trademark obsessiveness, atmosphere and genuine attachment to well-drawn characters.

With its epic scope, colourful characters and bonkers plotting, the stuff necessary for a truly gripping film is undeniably all there. The film begins with Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young kid living in New York with his mother and step-dad, still unsure whether his vivid dreams about a Tower under attack have anything to do with reality. But rather than explore the kid’s paranoia and absolute terror when he comes face to face with the villains of his nightmares, the film instead adopts the levelling tone of a time-honoured adventure yarn, sleepwalking from one plot point to the next without paying much attention to the fact that this kid is supposed to be just like the rest of us.

This makes even the entrance of Idris Elba’s Gunslinger, and his ability to make bullets ricochet off one another (!), feel rather tame and unexciting. This muting even effects Matthew McConaughey – often swinging his arms around for no apparent reason – who turns up in the unusually low-key role of the evil, sadistic Man in Black. The final confrontation between these two A-grade movie stars is nowhere near as suspenseful as it should be, arriving as it does after a clash between the man bent on destroying the universe and the only person who can stop him.

It’s almost as if a conscious effort has been made to make this mix of western, sci-fi and time travel genre elements as banal as possible. Delivering only a hint of King’s vast and complex universe, and with very broad characters, the film fails on all counts, being neither as nerdy or accessible as it might have been. That it never seems completely ridiculous or try-hard is perhaps the only silver lining.

Published 19 Aug 2017

Tags: Idris Elba Matthew McConaughey

Anticipation.

The one has been in the works for a long time, which isn’t usually a good sign.

Enjoyment.

Not even bad enough to be fun.

In Retrospect.

Surely one of the least memorable King adaptations there is.

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