Films with child leads don’t always do well at gaining adult audiences. Director Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower hit theaters on August 4 and has already attracted large audiences, likely with the help of promotional materials featuring Matthew McConaughey (the Man in Black) and Idris Elba (Roland). However, these posters lack the face of the true leading “man” of the film: Tom Taylor, who plays 11-year-old Jack Chambers. Had this movie been marketed as what it truly is, a sci-fi picture with a child lead, The Dark Tower may not have received the attention it did during its opening weekend. Despite dominating its opening weekend’s box office, viewers may be disappointed to find that McConaughey and Elba ultimately take back seats to a child actor.
When a series of eight books is compressed into a 95-minute film, there’s bound to be a consolidation of content. Unfortunately, this consolidation compromises character and story development in The Dark Tower, resulting in an inability to become fully immersed in the film.
The Dark Tower begins as a group of playful children are interrupted by beeping sounds from bracelets they’re wearing. The children stop their play and slowly proceed to a large, oddly-shaped building. Inside, they’re strapped to chairs, a machine is turned on by straight-faced adults, and streams of light are extracted from the children’s heads as they resist and scream. As exciting as this opening scene is, the novelty of not knowing what is going on faded when the old it-was-all-a-dream cliché reared its ugly head.
Enter Jack Chambers: a strange kid with stranger dreams and family problems. Chambers’ dreams show him a place where children are tortured for access to their minds, which have the power to take down a massive tower in the center of the universe. The tower protects all the worlds within the universe by keeping evil out. In this world, “gunslingers” are men tasked with protecting the tower at all costs. The evil “Man in Black” (McConaughey) has a sole purpose: destroy the tower.
In a story as underdeveloped as this one, it would have been refreshing to see some production effort focused on the dream world; however, Chambers’ dream world is boring, baring an exact resemblance to Earth.
While in his dream world, Chambers finds and teams up with the last gunslinger, Roland, and the two of them set off to destroy the Man in Black. Some of the few good scenes in The Dark Tower are bonding moments between Roland and Chambers; at one point, Roland relates with Chambers over the loss of a parent. However, these scenes are not enough to save Roland from ultimately lacking character development. Chambers receives the most attention of all the characters, yet is not likeable. As with many child actors, he recites lines that feel too posed and forced. Likewise, the Man in Black also suffers from being two dimensional, as he wants death simply for death’s sake and has ambiguous magical powers; he does not have enough qualities to make him a compelling villain.
The few action scenes provide relief from this film that manages to make 95 minutes feel remarkably long. They’re well choreographed and creative – McConaughey catches bullets with his bare hands at one point, and Elba reloads his gun in a matter of seconds. Between the action scenes, the plot slogs on towards a predictable ending. Though McConaughey and Elba are key characters, their screen time is shorter than Taylor’s, who is not nearly as entertaining to watch. Their appearances tempt the idea that they will be more present in the film, and make the fact that they’re not that much more disappointing. It’s been reported that soon the Stephen King series on which The Dark Tower is based on will be adapted to a television show. Hopefully, more time to delve deeper into the intricacies of this world will do this story more justice than the film did.