The Dark Tower review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I can already hear the seething of the fans of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for a film adaptation that condenses a 300+ page book into a 95-minute movie. Here is a foundation fantasy film that skirts by so much of its lore that it’ll easily make the devoted readers cringe and hiss for what was left out. But after seeing so many of these fantasy franchise that stoops their worlds in so many characters, settings, monsters, history, dimensions and planets that require a bible-sized handbook in addition to the books to comprehend, I’m grateful for the diet this picture went on.
Such a simple story doesn’t require a beefy backstory. There exists another dimension (or a world or something) magic and cowboys, where a giant tower protects a post-apocalyptic land from the monsters outside its borders. An evil sorcerer simply defined as The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) wants that tower gone. A noble gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba) can’t have that and battles him with the only weapon capable of stopping a sorcerer: a pistol formed from Excalibur. It’s a weapon that has the magical properties to consistently ricochet off any surface and fast enough to ricochet off other bullets already ricocheting. If you think that’s ridiculous, try the tower-destroying machine of The Man in Black, which requires the screams of children to operate.
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is the kid in the regular universe of New York City that becomes the target of The Man in Black. While the secret agents of the villain, dressed in the loose skin like those lizard people of V, it is discovered that Jake more special than the other harvested children. He possesses the psychic ability to telepathically make contact with others, uncreatively dubbed the Shine and bearing an uncanny resemblance to The Shining. Jake teams up with Roland and the two are off on a fantastical adventure through worlds.
The Dark Tower is predictably derivative of other adventure films, which may explain why director Nikolaj Arcel skates by them all so quickly. Jake’s visions and drawings are straight out of The Neverending Story. When he later takes Roland on a path through New York City, it’s the classic fish out of water story where Roland finds himself perplexed by everything from Coca-Cola to hot dogs. The action scenes are straight out of nearly a dozen juvenile fantasies where hordes of tattered and shadowy creeps assault villages with fire. And the moment when Jake falls for the illusion of his dead dad reappearing in dark forest is such an overused cliché of any fantasy film I’m surprised to still it in this day and age.
In one sense, this is a mistake as nothing in the movie can really take off when it’s moving so fast towards that climax of magical powers, gunfights, and explosions. But I’m perfectly okay with the movie not stopping for Roland to explain that animals talk in his world or the mythical beasts that haunt the relics of an old theme park. As the film progresses towards its more fantastical elements, I found myself amused by the film’s audacity to cram so much into its tight running time. Some of the fight scenes are simply adorable in how it stages the most absurd of moments where bodies cartoonishly slam to the floor and smash through bus windshields. The final battle with Elba ricocheting bullets and McConaughey catching them like pebbles is so unbelievably over the top I couldn’t help but laugh, more for its earnest vision than campy effects.
The Dark Tower is not a great movie and most likely a horrible adaptation of a beloved fantasy series. But think about this movie as a whole for a minute: a psychic Tom Taylor teams up with cowboy Idris Elba to shoot magically-charged bullets at an open-shirted Matthew McConaughey. That’s how I’m going to remember this movie, in the same tone of those campy fantasy pictures of the 1980s that were incredible inventive if not over their heads. It’s just too ridiculously committed to thinking of it as anything more than a pulpy B-movie; one that I believe will hold up better over time.