So there is a dark tower at the direct center of the universe, and all the planets exist in a huge circumference surrounding it. The tower creates light and order throughout the universe, but on the outside of this perimeter, there is chaos, darkness and really disgusting monsters. And if the tower is ever destroyed, all the monstrous awfulness will run rampant over the universe and destroy everything in it.
This concept for “The Dark Tower,” based on a series of novels by Stephen King, has a certain resonance, replicating conscious and unconscious minds, with the tower standing as the wall between the two. But it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to realize that there is no metaphor at work in “The Dark Tower.” Everything is on the surface here, and what you see is what you get. And it isn’t much.
It takes place at a time when the tower is under assault by a smooth-talking man in black named Walter, played by Matthew McConaughey doing what seems like a very amusing Matthew McConaughey impersonation. Walter has the power to kill people with the radiant force of his self-love combined with some truly lethal narcissistic acting — or perhaps it just seems that way. Maybe it’s just that he’s a sorcerer and a very unpleasant guy.
The thing Walter most wants to do as the story starts is to harness the brain power of a child, because according to legend, only the energy of a child’s mind can truly wipe out the tower. And we know exactly what child he’s looking for, even before he does. He wants Jake (Tom Taylor), who is living in Manhattan with his widowed mother and stepfather. Jake is having horrible nightmares in which he sees Walter. From the extent of his distress, we think at first that he must be imagining Walter winning an Oscar and saying that he is his own hero, but no. It’s something to do with the tower.
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Though this movie is based on up to eight novels, there’s enough story here only for a very good one-hour, one-off TV drama. Once young Jake transports himself to the world of the dark tower and once he meets the movie’s hero, Roland (Idris Elba) — known as the gunslinger — there is only one thing left to happen. Jake and Roland have to go up against Walter. That’s it. Everything that takes place in between those two points is filler, and what’s worse — what is ultimately unforgivable — is that it actually feels like filler. That goes double for every monster and every delaying-tactic action scene.
Actually, there is one other thing that’s unforgivable. After building up to the great climactic confrontation for two-thirds of the movie, it’s a letdown.
Taylor is an appealing young actor, and Elba is a convincing hero, but McConaughey is just funny as Walter, if only because he seems to be enjoying the sorcerer’s power all too much. In fact, “The Dark Tower” could have been a better movie — not good, but better –— had McConaughey and Elba switched roles. We know from “Beasts of No Nation” that Elba can play the most awful of villains, and he can do it without looking comically pleased with himself. And McConaughey can play a complicated hero as well as anybody.
Or — look, the movie is hopeless, so let’s just have fun thinking about casting — they could have kept Elba as the hero and hired Jude Law as the villain, because Law knows how to do that double thing the role required: complete self-love and utter self-loathing at the exact same time.
‘The Dark Tower’
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.