Film review: THE DARK TOWER, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Adapting the young adult, sci-fi/ fantasy, adventure novel to the screen is a tricky feat. If done right, as in the Harry Potter films, they can provide wonderful cinema. Too often, though, film-makers trying to adapt popular teen novels to the big screen fumble the task badly, exhibit A: The Mortal Instruments. It would be reasonable to expect that a film-maker would be on safer ground with a work from an extensively and often successfully adapted author like Stephen King but think again as, director Nikolaj Arsel’s cinematic incarnation of King’s graphic novel series The Dark Tower is a mess.

With a plot squashed together from eight books in the Dark Tower series, the story is a clunky convoluted and mostly unengaging amalgam of teen fantasy, supernatural thriller and western. Unfortunately, it never entirely succeeds within any of these genres.

Tom Taylor plays troubled teen Jake who is plagued by disturbing dreams of tortured children, the destruction of a very Tolkien-esque tower, fiery global apocalypse and a demonic man in black who Jake is certain is real and out to get him. When Jake’s nightmares prove prophetic he finds himself pursued by a ruthless and smug demon with the unlikely name of Walter (Matthew McConaughey). Journeying through an inter-dimensional portal he finds himself in a kind of post-apocalyptic Earth-like world where he encounters the enigmatic ‘gunslinger’ Roland (Idris Elba) who has been in a life long battle with the demonic Walter.   Together, Jake and the gunslinger must stop Walter from literally unleashing hell upon the world.

The story had potential for a grand supernatural thriller but any sense of wonder is obliterated by noisy, confusing effects sequences and lumbering attempts at exposition. The whiny Jake and his gunslinger buddy just stumble back and forth between the different worlds fighting silly looking cgi monsters and ninja creatures that look suspiciously like Peter Jackson’s orcs. Admittedly, Roland’s slick gunslinging skills energise some of the action sequences and cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk captures a few stunning shots of verdant landscapes (which were filmed in South Africa) and New York’s sprawling sky scrapers.

There’s a multitude of plot fragments including implied romantic dalliances for Jake but these never go anywhere. Similarly, characters such as Claudia Kim’s Arra pop in and out of the film without establishing their importance to the story.

The film is saved from turkeydom by a strong performance from Idris Elba who brings nuance and pathos to his role as the troubled gunslinger. McConaughey makes a passable demonic villain, giving Walter a malevolent arrogance even if he does dress like a ballroom dancer. As the film’s alleged star, young Tom Taylor isn’t particularly charismatic or memorable but to be fair he is competing against older pros in Elba and McConaughey.

The Dark Tower is one or two vaguely entertaining sequences away from a complete disaster and is unlikely to leave any cinema-goer eagerly anticipating another instalment.

Nick’s rating: **

Genre: Sci-fi/ fantasy/ action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Nikolaj Arcel.

Release date: 17th Aug 2017.

Running time: 95 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



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