At best, director Nikolaj Arcel's "The Dark Tower," a sci-fi, fantasy western gleaned from Stephen King's best-selling, eight-volume series, might serve as a vicarious mitigation of the horror currently befalling America. The film is clearly about the war between good and evil, albeit related only coincidentally to the nightmarish battle between those forces now commanding our national stage. Whereas our real fight waits for afeared and hesitant patriots to awaken, the movie provides a quick fix of honesty and justice.
But otherwise, while fans of the horror meister's franchise might be pleased to see the saga all gussied up in celluloid, the great unwashed will recognize that "The Dark Tower" is but one more entry into the mythical worlds realm. Y'know, all the stuff glommed from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." Yeah, even you, Harry Potter. There are the usual folkways and mores to imbibe, the bevy of gadgets and appurtenances to become familiar with, and oh yes, a few mantras, prayers and invocations to acknowledge if one truly wishes to be hip to the jive.
I reckon I was hip enough in the '60s, but still haven't managed to learn all of my own society's vocabulary, beliefs, superstitions and whatever else goes into being aware of one's circumstances on this planet. Therefore, to add another layer of so-called phony world beliefs is burdening. Still, it's heartening that the film makes a strikingly solid distinction, with no gray area, between good and bad.
Truth is, the times couldn't be riper for muckraking and metaphor. While especially important for young minds, it's good exercise for all of us who choose not to drink the Kool-Aid to regularly distinguish between the powers of dark and light, a time-honored tradition that has brought us up out of the muck and mire of barbarity. In detailing how the bad guys, led by Matthew McConaughey's Man in Black, want to topple the universe-stabilizing Dark Tower, which might very well symbolize the U.S. Constitution, there is no equivocation.
Following established threads of storytelling meant to pull at the heartstrings and emulate our most cherished ideals, dual heroes, one a misunderstood but particularly gifted teenager, the other a mystical bounty hunter of veracity and virtue, are teamed. Paying dramatic lip service to our culture's outcry for father figures, Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, aka The Gunslinger, is just what a kid like Tom Taylor's Jake Chambers needs to guide him through the rough patches.
Having recently lost his firefighter dad in a tragic accident, he's had it rough.
To make things worse, the strife-ridden dreams he recreates in frightening drawings have made him an outcast prone to bullying in school, and his ignorant, self-centered stepfather does his darndest to weaken what loving support his emotionally torn mom attempts to give him. Hence, there is poetic equity in the divulgence that our underrated lad is not dysfunctional, but blessed with very special powers. Call it Dickens chiming in for the 21st-century audience, reminding that whether through charity, sudden fortune or dint of irony, no child should be left behind.
You see, those ominous dreams are Jake's crystal ball into the dimension where The Man in Black, also known as Walter o'Dim, seeks to deconstruct the administrative state, as some may put it, by destroying the Dark Tower. Pretty nutty, huh? Well, we'll just have to see about all that. But it won't be easy. Bear in mind that the forces of immorality and malevolence abhor a fair fight.
Plus, aside from being armed with the newest technology available to him in his nether domain, known as Mid-World, his loyal base of sycophants will gladly follow him to Hell.
Upping the competitive ante and making us hate him even more, o'Dim isn't just into eviscerating all that is proper and decent. He is an inveterate sadist who dispatches with relish anyone considered a threat to his preeminence. So pardon us if we can't wait until we are rid of the fiendish cad. Toward that end, expect a lot of scooting in and out of portals between worlds, scads of gunplay, the currently required quotient of special effects, and even a tad of neo Ayn Rand mishegoss about our doomed destiny, blah, blah, blah.
But I suspect even filmgoers who like their motion picture escapism to take place in these esoteric and farfetched parallel universes won't be terribly impressed with "The Dark Tower." I mean, I grokked it. How good can it be if a naysayer like me, who frowns upon movies requiring a secret handshake and a glossary, actually understands it? Besides, and unfortunately, this fake world rendition of good vs. evil can't hold a candle to the real world version now playing out in a galaxy near you.
"The Dark Tower," rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Nikolaj Arcel and stars Tom Taylor, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Running time: 95 minutes
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