THE DARK TOWER (2017): Exposition Ft. Stephen King References

The Dark Tower has so many elements I’d love to embrace. Never read the novels, but was intrigued by the concept. That of a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) doomed to walk the Universe in pursuit of the man who wronged him. The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey), a charming demon out to destroy the titular literal skyscraper and bring forth monsters. Some of which come from The Dark Tower author Stephen King‘s other books. That right there sounds like just the type of weird yet familiar genre storytelling that could kick us out of the generic blockbuster funk we’re in. Yet, it ironically just ends up being the blandest type of blockbuster we’re familiar with. As is explained numerous times.

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Yes, let’s get this right out the way. The Dark Tower is very much an exposition dump of a movie. Understandable to some degree. We’re being introduced to a whole new world. Exposition is bound to be clunky. But it doesn’t need to be plentiful, as it is here. So much of The Dark Tower is telling you about the importance of its universe. What a “Gunslinger” is, but how our specific one Roland is the best of them. Why does this make him better? Because he can shoot super fast. What is the comparison with the Gunslinger? His dad (Dennis Haysbert) was also a gunslinger. Where to the guns get their power? They’re made from the metal of excalibur. What is his mission? To kill The Man In Black for killing his Dad. Who is The Man in Black? A dude who wears black and scowls at people.

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Which pretty much describes the amount of character stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are given. Two of the better actors working today are saddled with exposition and moody brooding that gives neither of them any room for a real personality. Elba especially doesn’t lift much of an eyebrow to do anything but grimace and point is gun. He got the backstory, but not the pathos because of how rushed everything feels. We just know he’s some dude who wants revenge yet won’t save the universe too because… screw it I’m a cowboy lone wolf?

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Matthew McConaughey is the more interesting case. He doesn’t seem all that enthused, but not completely uncommitted. His performance gives the aire that The Dark Tower editors Alan Edward Bell and Dan Zimmerman used takes of McConaughey that were either the fourth “let’s have fun, fellas” take and the ninth “I’m tired of this” take. So either in a relaxed mood or just plain tensed up. There’s little room for his character to grow, but there are isolated moments of McConaughey charm that ooze through, often resulting in the more unintentionally funny sides of the film. Which to be fair… are more interesting than anything else here.

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This goes for our audience surrogate of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy in search of help. He hears voices. Sees horrible visions in his dreams. Has a stepdad who lacks empathy. Gets bullied in school. Draws weird images in his notebook. I’m sorry, was I describing Jake Chambers or EVERY OTHER STEPHEN KING PROTAGONIST? Yes, when we aren’t in the other world messing with all sorts of monsters and interdimensional western stuff, we get a lot of the typical archetypes that Stephen King developed, minus a few awful Christians and drunks. Jake is our surrogate, but we never care enough about him over the course of this journey. There’s no chemistry with Idris Elba in a mentor-mentee fashion they’re striving for. He’s just a vehicle for everyone to exposit things about The Dark Tower to.

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Oh, but don’t you fret! If you’re sick of the general cliches from Stephen King’s work, just wait until all the references pop up! Look, there’s the Christine car! Oh, Jake has ‘The Shine!’ There’s Pennywise’s name over a carnival! These are really the only moments where The Dark Tower shows off any resemblance of being interesting. And it’s by merely implying a connection to King’s other stories. Stories that were adapted to popular culture with some kind of memorable quality. Surely, this at least feels better in context of a series of novels that actually expounded more upon the universe this connected to. Hell, it just gets people to remember that the upcoming It film from a completely different studio looks so much better than this one. Great universe building once again, Sony!

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The worst thing about The Dark Tower is that despite the fantastical setting and earth shattering stakes, the entire thing comes off as so slight. Such a small scale for any of these major moments to really take impact. Director Nikolaj Arcel shows no real hand or personality. Though, this likely has to do with the multitude of production problems and voices here. It seems as if all of this was truly neutered to this bland whitebread version of an epic fantasy parable. Instead, it feels like a lesser version of a 90s kids fantasy movie. Special effects and all. Especially when our climax is rocks vs guns. Woof.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Gunslinger Bullets

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