Movie Review: The Dark Tower
By Ben Gruchow
August 10, 2017
There is a tower at the center of the universe. It holds together all of creation, which radiates out around this linchpin in a vaguely circular shape; beyond the borders of this circle awaits an endless darkness full of monstrosities, all trying to push their way in. This is, in broad strokes, the setting of both the movie and the film. It’s punchy, but not exactly unique as a concept nor illustrative as a metaphor.
The source material involves much (much, much) more complexity and detail about the architecture of this universe, but for the sake of bending over backward to be fair to a movie that was pretty obviously doomed from the moment the term “fast-tracked” was applied to it, we’ll say that the two incarnations of this story are playing in the same ballpark. There are those given to protect the tower, and those who want to bring it down, destroying all of reality in the process. For the former, we’re provided Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), last in a mythic line of elite Gunslingers 0 so named because of their unearthly skill with loading, aiming, and firing their revolvers. For the latter, we’re given Walter, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) a person who…um, dresses in black. He can also set people on fire and kill them just by telling them to stop breathing, but his magic doesn’t work on Roland (if it did, we would not have this movie, thereby making The Dark Tower one more cinematic face-off where we feel like rooting for the bad guy when we’re not supposed to).
In all fairness, the movie makes it pretty clear that Walter wants to bring the tower down and end the world, so he does have agency. Roland has agency, too; his main goal is to exact revenge on Walter for killing everyone he once cared about. Into this wilderness wanders Jake Chambers, a boy from New York City. Jake is a powerful telepath and seer; he dreams about a tower, and a gunslinger, and a man in black, draws disturbing pictures of them upon waking up, and slowly becomes convinced that the dreams are something more significant than REM cycles. Perhaps it’s the frequent earthquakes that have been rattling New York lately. Perhaps it’s the strange people from the juvenile treatment facility upstate, who have faces that look strangely like masks. We must ultimately hazard a guess, because the movie is in too much of a hurry to actually show us the point where Jake becomes a believer in metaphysics and prophecy.
These opening stretches of the film, which are mostly concerned with Jake and his growing imperative to find a way into the deserted land he keeps dreaming about, are where the movie holds most of its promise. It is absolutely a corrupted and superficial treatment of the source material, for sure; as objective cinema, it’s at least moderately successful in projecting mystique and atmosphere, and we can start to buy into the idea that there’s another world floating just out of Jake’s reach.