VOD film review: The Dark Tower
James R | On 20, Apr 2018
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Watch The Dark Tower online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The Body. The Shining. Carrie. The Shawshank Redemption. The Mist. The novels of Stephen King have given us a number of all-time classic movies. The Dark Tower is not one of them.
Borrowing a number of elements from King’s eight-book universe to form a continuation of the fantasy, the film follows Jake (Tom Taylor), a young boy in New York who discovers he has psychic abilities. Those powers enable him to see a world beyond ours – one of a number of realities, which are held together by The Dark Tower. Walter Padick (Matthew McConaughey), known as The Man in Black, is a sorcerer plotting to bring it down and turn the universe into monster-ridden chaos. Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) is a gunslinger determined to stop him – and avenge the death of his father.
There’s not a whole lot more to it than that, and yet there clearly is, as fragments of ideas burst from the frame in ever shot. We glimpse Mid-World, journey through some portals, even see an entire wooden attic come to life and swallow Jake whole; this is not a film short of imagination. And yet it feels curiously shorn of it at every step.
Each set piece teases with fun tricks of bullet-rebounding and telekinetic glass-throwing, not to mention some truly epic reloading stunts. While director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) does a good job of proving there’s more to him than just a period drama ace, though, the script jumps from random plot point to random plot point at such a lick, and with such little concern for logic or cohesion, that the strength of any set pieces is sadly undermined. The frustration isn’t that the narrative makes no sense, but that this simplified, edited-down result (the runtime is a slim 98 minutes) has clearly had the majority of its narrative removed.
The cast are woefully short-changed: McConaughey is obviously enjoying himself as the sadistic magician who can make others do what he wants, but his intimidating strength never quite lands (a PG certificate doesn’t help matters). Elba, meanwhile, is gruffness personified as the grizzled gun-toting legend. His hastily reshot scenes to introduce his father (Dennis Haysbert) are convincingly sold by the actors but underserved by the script, which never fully builds on them, leaving us with a hero whose emotional arc weirdly never lands. As for the possible apocalypse, the dramatic stakes feel more like escalopes. The result is ambitious, and commendably concise, but you end up all-too-aware that you’ve only seen half of what this could have been; The Dark Tower is closer to a slightly shadowy bungalow.
The Dark Tower is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.