By Andrew Buckner
Rating: *** out of *****.
Director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower (2017) is too generic, polished and over-sanitized at times. It could have also benefited from higher degrees of emotional resonance. Such a factor is especially lacking in the otherwise engaging finale. The cinematic exercise might have also been strengthened by incorporating less of a young adult friendly tone. But, the ninety-five-minute film, based on a series by Stephen King which spans eight books and one novella, is so fast-moving and fun that such flaws barely register as the picture unfolds.
Additionally, Idris Elba (as Roland Deschain/ the Gunslinger) and Matthew McConaughey (as Walter O’ Dim/ the Man in Black) are terrific. McConaughey plays the antagonistic O’ Dim in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner. Regardless, both performers stay true to the essence of King’s characters. All the while they deliver their own unique interpretations of the central figures. This is while visibly relishing their lead turns. Continuously, Katheryn Winnick as Laurie and Karl Thaning as Elmer Chambers also provide strong representations. Dennis Haysbert is just as proficient as Roland’s father, Steven. He is spied in the successfully utilized flashbacks. All of which are evenly dispersed throughout the undertaking. Likewise, the various nods to King’s other works, a trait prevalent in the literature itself, heightens the joy at hand.
The story revolves around the teenage Jake Chambers (in a likable enactment from Tom Taylor). He has psychic powers (King’s classic “shine”). In the opening stretches, he is suffering from nightmares of “Skin-Men”. There is also an enigmatic edifice which keeps the universe in one piece. Such is also viewed in these fearful flashes. Sights of Deschain and O’ Dim are just as widespread. These images will take on more of a pivotal role in Jake’s immediate future than he can initially imagine.
After etching a collection of drawings which concern a rugged cowboy figure in his parents’ New York City apartment, he is inadvertently pulled into an on-going combat. This is between the archetypically virtuous Gunslinger and the evil Man in Black. The latter is attempting to keep the former from reaching the title place. This is before O’ Dim destroys the building himself. Yet, Deschain’s problems with O’ Dim also resonate from a profoundly personal level. Such makes the stakes, as the fate of worlds hang in the balance, increasingly palpable. This peril is augmented as O’ Dim sets his sights on capturing Jake. Such a goal is set in motion to help the Man in Black achieve his own nefarious goals.
It would be easy to say Arcel’s opus lacks the epic scope, structure and ambition of the source material. There are only light touches of some of the author’s original springs of inspiration present in Arcel’s endeavor. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966). In Arcel’s rendition, a continuation of the events which concluded The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004), the many genres King injected into his tale have been reduced almost exclusively to fantasy, science-fiction and adventure. The mythology, themes and symbolism are also comparatively stripped down.
Correspondingly, the effects are lackluster at best. The same can be said of the screenplay from Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and Arcel. To be fair, the dialogue has its share of clever banter. Such is evident in a second act sequence where Deschain briefly becomes a patient in a hospital. It is also perceptible in a late segment which showcases Jake and Deschain eating a hot dog in “Keystone Earth”. This is the term Deschain uses for the parallel universe Jake sees as his day-to-day reality. But, there are just as many cringe-worthy instances.
Still, the cinematography from Rasmus Videbaek and the collective sound team contribution are vastly immersive. Junkie XL’s music is exciting and dramatic. The action scenes, which occasionally feel as if they are lifted from The Matrix (1999), are striking. Similarly, the exertion flows well and is largely coherent. Such is refreshing given the reports of the re-edits and re-shoots which plagued the project. Thus, the effort makes for a satisfying, if undeniably minor, slice of big-budget B-movie cinema. This is on its own accord. It’s forgettable. But, its diverting, taut and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Sometimes that’s enough.
(PG-13). Contains adult content and violence.
In theaters now.