PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

'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
Website
Trailer

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.

2

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

20 Songs from the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.