Hours after leaving the cinema, the most distinct sense of The Dark Tower was the feeling that the movie is an extended trailer, or a detailed Wikipedia summary for a much better movie that will never be made.
The movie, with its premise of a grand multiverse that’s littered with a wealth of possibilities, squanders a lot of its promise in only 95 minutes.
The sci-fi western movie is an adaptation of American author Stephen King‘s eight-volume book series of the same name.
Even without reading the Dark Tower books, familiarity with King’s work is enough to make the movie’s audience crave for an intense magical realism fest that’s filled with wonder.
After the movie ends, the audience is left with an unrealised desire to see a much better movie that does the author’s incredible stories better justice.
The movie introduces the cinematic world of The Dark Tower through the eyes of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a troubled teenager who has disturbing visions of another realm that the adults in his life think he’s making up.
Except he’s not.
After almost getting kidnapped by creatures from his visions, Jake hurries along into the surreal Mid-World he’s always dreamed about and interacts with everyone and everything that had given him sleepless nights.
He runs into the Gunslinger (Idris Elba), the last of a dying breed of protectors of the titular tower that is a gigantic spire holding the universe’s various worlds together and keeping a wide array of monsters out of them.
The two quickly form an alliance to travel across the deserted Mid-World and defeat evil sorcerer, Walter (Matthew McConaughey) nicknamed the Man in Black.
The Man in Black resolutely pursues the destruction of the mysterious tower and sacrifices children with special psychic abilities like Jakes’ to destroy it.
The movie’s problem is a fundamental one as director Nikolaj Arcel makes the decision to switch from the book’s perception of the Mid-World from the Gunslinger’s view to narrating the story from Jake’s point of view.
While this choice won’t matter much to the audience that hasn’t picked up the books, the problem is quite obvious in how narrow the narrative is.
There is no broad understanding of the tower’s universe, because the audience has to be indelicately fed its lore just the same way Jake is discovering it.
This makes the movie’s dialogue suffer from blandness as encounters between characters are mostly coloured with clunky expositions about the universe.
The movie’s mythology is jammed through so many poorly-executed expositions it makes the depiction and exploration of the mysterious Mid-World come off as something deeply unsatisfying that could have easily offered more.
The narrative scope of the movie is largely diminished because the audience is experiencing it from the eyes of a terrified 14-year-old.
The most notable casualty of this is the relationship between the Gunslinger and the Man in Black whose past conflict is depicted in a one-off flashback.
This is important because that one scene is a major catalyst for the Gunslinger’s motivations for most of the movie, and it hints at what could have been a more interesting angle to cover.
This unforgivable omission is also why the audience never gets a good sense of the Man in Black’s incredible Purple Man-esque suggestive powers, or why the Gunslinger is the only one that’s unaffected by his powers.
Even Jake’s psychic ‘shine’ powers are so vaguely coloured that he uses them to achieve whatever the plot requires from one scene to another.
These are all key elements to the story that could have been better explored to make a more balanced and satisfying movie.
It never really offers enough depth or patience to allow the audience to properly care for what the characters are going through.
It burns through its transitions too quickly to build meaningful narrative development and leave the audience unsatisfied with an underwhelming climax.
However, the cast is impressively immune to the mediocre charm of this movie.
Elba, as the vengeance-seeking/babysitter Gunslinger, is its brightest spot as he plods across realms, trying to end his arch-nemesis for very personal reasons.
Even though he couldn’t completely redeem the movie, he lavishes it with some undeserved swagger and dignity.
He is mostly impressive in the action-packed gun battles, as much as he’s in form when he’s cracking unintentional jokes that hit the point.
Even though he doesn’t exactly match Elba’s degree, McConaughey isn’t a let-down with the cartoonish Man in Black whose villainy is sometimes depicted with effortless creepiness.
He lisps his way into talking anyone into doing anything with the power of his suggestive tongue. He commands people to kill themselves, commands people to stop breathing, and even turns a daughter against her mother on a whim.
He’s an awful character that appears to do things just because he wants to be evil and McConaughey sells him with the sort of imposing nonchalance that’s required to hate him on behalf of the protagonists.
As Jake, Taylor offers the sort of emotional maturity that’s needed to play a troubled teenager trapped in a fantastic world.
Other than the audience, if anyone has been wronged here, it’s the impressive cast that has to battle with a mediocre script.
Unlike the audience though, they can at least find succour in their fat paychecks.
The Dark Tower fails to answer some very interesting questions that could have made for a better movie, but it papers over those cracks by entertaining the audience with some well-executed action scenes, for the most part.
Years from now, not a lot of people will remember The Dark Tower for being a rousing success, but not a lot of people will remember it as a complete disaster too.
It’s just a decent, timid sci-fi movie that could have been done way better for a little longer than 95 minutes.