'The Dark Tower' Is a Pillar of Boredom

Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey (IMDB)

Idris Elba is again squandered in this fantasy Western that feels like the sequel to a non-existent movie and the prequel to a movie that will never be made.

The Dark Tower

Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures
Year: 2017
UK Release Date: 2017-08-18
US Release Date: 2017-08-04

The Dark Tower is a motion picture in which a collection of scenes are strung together in a competent manner. Things happen and then it ends. It is the sequel to a series of books that most people have never read. Beyond these facts, it’s difficult to find a meaning or purpose behind director Nikolaj Arcel’s thoroughly disappointing fantasy/ action/ Western.

In the Fall of 2016, early screenings of The Dark Tower left audiences dissatisfied and baffled, ostensibly, because they hadn’t bothered to read the eight books and 1.3 million words that Stephen King wrote for them as a primer. Re-shoots and re-scheduled release dates followed, resulting in a film that will still leave audiences dissatisfied and baffled. And bored. Very, very bored.

“Everyone who walks with you dies.”

Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) is a cowboy of sorts. They call him ‘The Gunslinger’ because he shoots his gun so pretty. His only mission in life (or at least in this movie) is to track and murder the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey as the MIB!), a powerful sorcerer obsessed with destroying the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is an interdimensional outpost (and righteous MacGuffin) that keeps beasties and baddies from alternative universes from invading our inconsequential little world. Roland once swore an oath to protect the Tower, but he abandoned those lofty responsibilities in favor of simpleminded vengeance against MIB, who murdered everyone he loved in a previous, presumably more exciting adventure.

If we needed more evidence that filmmakers have no idea what to do with Idris Elba’s commanding onscreen presence, The Dark Tower should close the case for good. With the possible exception of Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation (2015), which nobody saw due to its extremely limited release window, Elba has been relegated to movie roles far beneath his talent grade.

Here, he’s rendered monosyllabic, save for some metaphysical gibberish about “shoot with your mind” and “you have forgotten the face of your father.” He stalks about the screen, fruitlessly searching for something to do and some reason to give a damn. For a performer of Elba’s unique talents, the bolder, edgier approach of television drama is probably where he belongs until Hollywood filmmakers figure things out.

“His shine is pure!”

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is the prototypical ‘boy who knows too much.’ He’s been having dreams about Roland, MIB, and the Dark Tower, which is pretty weird considering that he lives in modern day New York City. His walls are littered with enough sketches to storyboard an entire (and better) movie. Everyone thinks these visions are his subconscious attempt to deal with the death of his father, a brave firefighter killed in the line of duty, but the MIB knows better. He wants to harness Jake’s psychic abilities, or ‘shine’, to help him destroy the Dark Tower. The only things standing in his way are Roland and the need to fill 90 minutes of screen time.

It’s difficult to convey what an uninteresting, emotionless exercise The Dark Tower is. Each scene is ruthlessly crafted by Arcel (A Royal Affair, 2012, Truth About Men, 2010) and his screenwriters to include only the expository dialogue and action plot points needed to move forward. Each scene bleeds lifelessly into the next with the disappointing stench of necessity. There is no character development or escalating tension. Nothing builds toward anything.

When the action finally starts, it’s little more than a glorified videogame. Opponents flash across the screen for Roland to dispatch with his otherworldly shooting skills. When he murders a building full of bad guys, you expect a counter to appear on the screen and tally Roland’s experience points for clearing that level.

Please don't ad block PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

Simply whitelisting PopMatters is a show of support.

Thank you.

Mostly, the action consists of running through boring locations or shuttling between boring dimensions. Roland and Jake run through the desert of Mid-World. MIB uses fancy portals to transport from his dark kingdom back to Earth. Roland and Jake run through New York City. Occasionally, everyone stops to explain what the hell is happening, why it matters, and the stipulations necessary to ensure future sequels.

“You’re going to like Earth.”

For one fleeting moment, The Dark Tower threatens to become interesting when Roland first transports from the mystical Mid-World to modern New York City. Several mildly amusing ‘fish out of water’ gags connect, including an awkward visit to the emergency room, where a perplexed doctor informs Roland that he has every strain of hepatitis known to medicine.

MIB also has a fateful encounter with Jake’s mother (Katheryn Winnick, who must have delivered Jake when she was 12 years old) that hints at the true menace McConaughey might have brought to the role if given a chance.

These moments, so full of potential for character development and escalating drama, are quickly abandoned for drama that flounders on the level of Young Adult fare. When MIB intones that he left behind "a little surprise” for Roland after his encounter with Jake’s mom, you expect something truly sinister. Instead, you get some juvenile graffiti scrawled on Jake's bedroom wall in the form of a smiley face with the inscription “Hello There.” Terrifying, indeed.

The premise is further undermined by the fact that nothing is more cinematically boring than watching gunslingers shoot guns and sorcerers perform magic. Where is the tension when the gunslinger never misses and the magician can seemingly do anything? To its credit, The Dark Tower foregoes any car chases, which would have completed the ‘Boredom Trifecta’.

The Dark Tower certainly flirts with plunging into entertaining schlock territory, but it’s in too much of a hurry to indulge those tendencies. It feels like the sequel to a movie that was never made and the prequel to a film that will (hopefully) never be made. Methodically, it goes about its business, only to fade from your mind the instant you leave the theater. The Dark Tower is a 90-minute portal into dullness.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.