Idris Elba’s Roland Deschain could have been a total dick in The Dark Tower. Decked out in dark leather, infinitely capable, and wielding twin revolvers crafted from King Arthur’s legendary Excalibur, audiences might expect the Gunslinger to be just like any other hyper-powerful action hero. That’s why Roland’s patience with and empathy for his young ally Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is so surprising and refreshing. In fact, it makes Roland himself endearing, even while he remains a total badass.
Action heroes aren’t usually nice. Think about Bruce Willis’s John McClane in the Die Hard series, Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, or even Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine; despite all their world-saving antics and lovable gruffness, no one would ever really classify them as nice guys. But Roland is, actually, kind of a nice person. And while Dark Tower, based on Stephen King’s epic book series of the same name, has been inundated by cringe-worthy reviews, tearing the film to shreds faster than the Dutch Hill Mansion Demon, there is a bright spot.
Roland’s rare ability to be kind is a marvel. It’s an infinitesimal detail in comparison to the rest of the film, but, too often, action heroes fulfill the stereotype of brushing off the enthusiastic kid, snapping at anyone with less talent and experience, and effortlessly (but still infuriatingly) lauding their talents with a well-timed smirk.
It’s, arguably, a toxic, overwhelmingly masculine trait, this compulsion to assert dominance over people with less experience. That’s why macho action heroes are usually assholes. They’re cool if the world needs saving, but you wouldn’t want to invite them to the afterparty. So, there’s some cognitive dissonance at work when the hero is… a nice, somewhat normal person.
While hanging out in the dark woods with the Pennywise statue and the “mysterious” roller coasters, Roland and Jake are attacked by one of the demons from outside the universe. Roland is momentarily incapacitated by one of its creepy tentacles, so Jake is left on his own. He goes for Roland’s gun but is unable to reach it before having to lead the monster on a chase in order to escape. Eventually, Roland breaks away and kills the beast.
Despite the potential jump scares of that scene, the most surprising thing comes in the form of Roland pausing, looking at Jake, and saying, “You handled yourself well.”
Not only is it the kind of positive male role model praise that Jake so desperately needs in his life, it’s also shocking to listen to an action hero humble himself in front of a child. Especially one that ran away.
Civilians’ fear is, time and time again in action films, met with derision from the hero, who then yanks the weapon from the terrified newbie’s grasp and says, in an appropriately gruff tone, something like, “Get out of my way” or, maybe, “Leave this to the professionals.”
Instead, Roland treats Jake with a certain level of respect, protecting him when he needs protection but still trusting him to take care of himself. A lot of that certainly has to do with Roland’s self-centered thirst for revenge as he uses Jake to help track down the Man in Black (there’s no point in denying that). But Roland didn’t have to be nice to Jake.
Roland didn’t have to comfort Jake after he’d found out his mother died and he didn’t have to bring Jake with him at the end of the film when he realized Jake didn’t have anyone else in his own world. He’s just a nice dude.
Could we maybe get more of those, please?
The Dark Tower is now in theaters.