Saturday, 26 August 2017

At the centre of the universe, on the planet Midworld, lies the Dark Tower. It alone keeps the darkness and the monsters from invading all of the worlds in known space. The Man in Black, evils sorceror Walter, wants to destroy the tower, allowing the demons in and harnessing them to make him ruler of everything. To this end, he is kidnapping children from Earth who have mental powers known as 'shining'. These powers can be harnessed to destroy the tower, but the latest unwilling recruit falls into the hands of Roland Deschain, the last of the noble gunfighters and a man who has dedicated his life to killing the Man in Black.

THE DARK TOWER is Stephen King's magnum opus, a tale that spans several volumes and tries to combine many of his earlier works into some sort of cohesive narrative. The King Cinematic Universe, if you will. Considering the scope and scale of the source material, it was never going to be easy to pare it down into something that would satisfy as a single movie. An epic TV series would have been much more like it. However, what we have is the movie and it has been a long, hard road getting to the point where there is something on the screen bearing the name THE DARK TOWER.

Before we go any further, it is worth pointing out that the film is not bad. It's not going to rock anyone's universe, but it is far from the train wreck that some reviews would have you believe. Of course, if you are invested in the source works then having it all squashed down into this one film, and with only a 95 minute running time at that, would probably have been unacceptable no matter how good it was. That it is entertaining enough without ever being anything even remotely special was never going to be good enough. There is quite clearly a whole heap of backstory that a single flashback to a previous meeting between Roland and Walter cannot ever hope to cover.

Idris Elba is perfect casting as gunslinger Roland, being immediately tough, laconic and honourable without having to do anything to prove those things. His presence immediately screams 'hero' whilst the script tries to make him a flawed and reluctant one, without much success. Ranged against him is Matthew McConaughey's Walter, a magician who wouldn't be out of place on a Vegas stage, but who gets to do some nasty stuff to people along the way. Considering the power that he has, it is hard to see why he keeps sending incompetent underlings to do the things that he could achieve easily. The fact that his power is so immense makes the climactic showdown between the two somewhat anticlimactic, despite Roland's assault on his New York stronghold being filled with some pretty good action licks. In fact, whenever Roland gets the guns out, the film improves immensely.

Despite coming originally from the pen of Stephen King, there is relatively little horror on show. A couple of CGI demons are dealt with fairly quickly, Walter's army are rat creatures that wear ill-fitting human skins and the wizard doesn't mind torturing kids to destroy the tower that stands in his way, but this film is more interested in being a fantasy actioner. There are some vaguely amusing fish out of water antics when Roland crosses over to modern day New York from a post-apocalypse Midworld and Elba manages these with perfect timing, but there is a plot to get through and character development takes a big back seat to that. The rivalry and hatred between Roland and Walter is barely explored, so much of the impact is lost.

The film looks good and the direction is straightforward enough not to get in the way, but it also adds nothing in the way of visual excitement. A few sly references to other King works (Oh, there's It or Christine) won't cut it.

Sure to disappoint King fans and especially fans of his longest work, THE DARK TOWER is an OK time passer that never quite rises to the challenge of what it ought to have been.

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