Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a teenager growing up in New York City. His dad was a fireman killed on the job and his mom has remarried. Jake has been having vivid dreams about a world at war, about a Man in Black, a Gunslinger, weird looking creatures, children strapped into a machine and being used as a power source for a directed energy weapon and a Dark Tower. Jake draws what he sees in his dreams and is obsessed with the images. It’s causing trouble at home and at school. Jake’s psychiatrist tries to convince him they are only dreams caused by the stress of his dad’s death but he is certain they are something more…something real. His parents plan on sending Jake to a weekend evaluation at a mental hospital but Jake doesn’t trust the two people sent to pick him up and he runs away. While on the run, Jake finds a house that looks like one he’s seen in his dreams. It’s abandoned and he breaks in. Walking down the hall, Jake hears a voice asking where he wants to go. It’s coming from a console built into the wall. Jake has seen the numbers “19-19” in his dreams and enters that on a keypad. A portal opens up in the wall that looks like it goes to another world. Jake enters and finds himself on an arid plain and sees two moons in the sky overhead. Jake walks until he finds a smoldering campfire where he comes face to face with the Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba). Not trusting him at first, the Gunslinger tells Jake to go away but Jake persists mentioning the Man in Black. The Gunslinger threatens Jake, accusing him of being an illusion. Jake shows his drawings to him and the Gunslinger suggests they go to a nearby village to allow a seer to interpret his dreams. Meanwhile, Walter, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is searching for a special child; one that can power a weapon to bring down the Dark Tower that separates all the parallel Earths from one another and also blocks out monsters that live at the fringes of the Universe. If the Dark Tower falls the monsters will overrun all the Earths and the Man in Black will rule over a kingdom of destruction. Jake’s travel from his home to this other world has not gone unnoticed and the Man in Black discovers Jake is the perfect child to power his weapon. Now Jake and the Gunslinger must find a way to prevent the Man in Black from succeeding in his plan to destroy all the Earths in the Universe.
Based on “The Dark Tower” series of books from author Stephen King, this movie isn’t exactly taken from any specific book; but is a collection of ideas composed into a film. Fans of the books may balk at the idea this movie is more of an impression of the much loved series. Those of us that haven’t read the books may actually find the film flawed but fairly entertaining.
When dealing with a story that takes place through eight books, 4,250 pages and 1,334,631 words, it seems an impossible task to distill all those ideas and characters down into one 95-minute movie. Fortunately, the makers of “The Dark Tower” didn’t even try to do that. This film, I believe, is designed to give the audience a taste of the grand mythology King created and to instill a desire to learn more about all the various Earths and the heroes and villains that populate them. If that is the idea then “The Dark Tower” is a success. I enjoyed learning of Keystone Earth and Mid-World, the war the Man in Black won against the gunslingers including Roland and his father and the idea that magic is a powerful force in some of these worlds. It is a colorful universe that obviously has a great deal more to offer and I hope to get a chance to see what it might serve up in future editions.
“The Dark Tower” is far from perfect. The story feels like it’s in a huge hurry to get from point to point at the expense of a clear narrative. Writers Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and director Nikolaj Arcel seem to be taking for granted that we’ll catch up on details in future projects and they don’t need to worry with a lot of details in this outing. I would have liked to be a bit more informed about what’s happening as it’s happening but the script just wants to steamroll on through and let you catch up on your own time. That makes a huge assumption that we’ll be waiting with anticipation for the proposed companion TV show slated for release in 2018 or that we’ll pick up the books and plow through King’s often dense and complicated prose. That assumption could sink this multi-platform franchise right off the bat.
The movie also makes some quick emotional turns that aren’t supported by the story. Jake at one point seems to rebel against the Gunslinger and his mission after making a discovery back on his Earth. That emotional U-turn is just as quickly reversed after a little target practice and the reciting of the Gunslinger’s Oath. It all rings hollow as both Jake’s change and the Gunslinger’s remedy feel out of left field. Both of these should have been emotional high points. Instead they are treated as afterthoughts or like common, everyday events. The lightning pace of the story doesn’t leave much room for us to get to know these characters other than the very basics and these two scenes deserved more set up and examination.
While neither of their characters is written up to their talents, both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey turn in fine performances. Elba’s Gunslinger is a reluctant hero on a mission to avenge the death of his father. This is his singular goal and saving the Tower is merely the consequence of killing the Man in Black. It’s a measured performance that isn’t flashy but still remains powerful.
McConaughey seems to be enjoying his role as the Man in Black. He’s all flair and is known by all those that worship him as a deadly force. He’s full of himself and has every right to be as he is a powerful sorcerer able to control the minds of anyone he chooses, except Roland. This vexes him but he’s happy to kill everyone the Gunslinger loves instead. McConaughey makes a formidable villain and would be wise to play more of them.
“The Dark Tower” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. Numerous people are shot but there is very little blood. A giant bug-like creature attacks Roland and Jake impaling Roland against a tree. People are shown being slashed by swords but again there is very little blood. A character is shown getting a nose bleed as they are subjected to psychic torture by the Man in Black. A couple of people are shown dying by the Man in Black telling them to stop breathing. Children are strapped into a machine to power a weapon. The powering of the weapon causes the children to scream in pain.
“The Dark Tower” franchise is designed to include TV shows as well as movies. A prequel series to fill in the backstory of the film is scheduled to air sometime in 2018 and sequel films are on the drawing board. Some or all of these plans may be at risk if this film doesn’t deliver a big enough return at the box office. A domestic projected opening weekend take of $19-million doesn’t bode well for a return trip to Mid-Earth but we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the world reacts to this latest Stephen King adaption. If you don’t like this one, the “It” movie comes out in a month.
“The Dark Tower” gets four stars out of five.
A horror sequel, a family drama and an animated sequel are opening at a theatre near you this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
The Glass Castle—
The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature—
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