The Dark Tower (2017)

Taking its cue from the series of novels by Stephen King, The Dark Tower doesn't try hard enough to escape its familiar brand of epic fantasy. The screenplay (by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel) calls back frequently to other works by King, from the picture of a certain hotel on a therapist's desk to the concept of psychic powers from, well, the same novel in which that hotel appears, which is a clever conceit in a movie that desperately needs more of them. Otherwise, it's a case of the same, old same-old, with a young hero-to-be latching onto a hero-that-was and fighting back against a villain that wants ultimate power.

The hero-to-be is Jake (Tom Taylor, good in an auspicious debut), a teenager living in New York City who has lately been plagued by vivid dreams of an alternate world in which a dark tower stands sentinel over an apocalypse. He dreams of a gunslinger and of a man in black who wants to destroy the tower. Borrowing children from the falsely idyllic neighborhoods below and forcing them to power a destructive weapon with their minds, the man in black plots to destroy the tower. Every time Jake sees the tower destroyed, New York City suffers a terrible earthquake. His mother and stepfather (played by Katheryn Winnick and Nicholas Pauling) doubt his sincerity and, worse, his sanity.

What they wind up realizing too late is that Jake's dreams may or may not be psychic visions into a future (or, perhaps, alternate) reality in which Earth is known as Mid-World. There really is a gunslinger, named Roland (Idris Elba), the last of his kind, who are thought to have been extinguished. And there really is a man in black, named Walter and played by Matthew McConaughey in a frankly bizarre performance that sees the actor straining to find the confidence to twist his usual persona of laid-back and casual to add "psychopathic" into the mix.

Anyway, the plot finds Jake traveling from "Keystone Earth," as our version of the planet is known on the other worlds, to Mid-World almost entirely on accident, then roped into a plot concocted by Roland to avenge his father's death at the hands of Walter, whose magical powers are such that he can control the actions and wellbeing of others with mere suggestion. Roland can resist those powers for some reason, and he's also impressive with a six-shooter, with a load of bullets on each belt loop along his waist. The film essentially becomes a chase movie powered by the generically supernatural.

The climax literalizes that notion, as it brings the action back to New York City for, of all things, a shootout (This does, admittedly, show Roland's skills with his gun in full force, as if an earlier scene, in which the gunslinger aims carefully where he cannot see and finds his target, didn't do that). Arcel stages the action, much of it is lit so darkly by cinematographer Rasmus Videbaek that it just looks muddy, and directs his actors competently. The Dark Tower, though, consistently feels rushed, distilling an epic novel into a concise package that needed the room to breathe and a dense mythology into fodder for genre formula.

Film Information

Tom Taylor (Jake Chambers), Idris Elba (Roland Deschain/The Gunslinger), Matthew McConaughey (The Man in Black), Katheryn Winnick (Laurie Chambers), Claudia Kim (Arra Champignon), Jackie Earle Haley (Sayre), Abbey Lee (Tirana), Michael Barbieri (Timmy), Karl Thaning (Elmer Chambers), Dennis Haysbert (Steven Deschain).

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel and written by Arcel, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, and Anders Thomas Jensen, based on the novels by Stephen King.

Rated PG-13 (thematic material including gun violence/action).

95 minutes.

Released on August 4, 2017.

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