Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughy, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Claudia Kim and Jackie Earl Haley
Running Time: 1 Hr, 35 mins
What could have been.
I got pretty much what I expected with films like Transformers: The Last Knight, The Mummy and Alien Covenant. Despite hoping for the best and trying to go in with an open mind, I wasn’t surprised at my varying degrees of disappointment and boredom. In fact, for better or worse, this summer has had precious few surprises. But I was holding out hope for The Dark Tower, based on Stephen King’s epic fantasy series of books. While you could arguably count the successful adaptations of King novels on one hand, my fingers were still crossed. King signed off on it, the casting was impressive and Idris Elba looked fantastic as Roland, the last Gunslinger.
While the world finds itself at the mercy of mysterious earthquakes, New York teenager Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is haunted by powerful and terrifying nightmares. Jake’s waking and family life begins to unravel while a pattern emerges in the gruesome imagery plaguing him (dominated by an ominous Tower and the frightening Man in Black-played by Matthew McConaughy). But any doubt Jake may have had about the significance of his dreams disappears when he finds himself being hunted by creatures straight from his nightmares.
Jake’s flight soon takes him to Mid-World, home of another figure who has begun to haunt Jake’s dreams: Roland Deschain, the Last Gunslinger (Idris Elba). Jake’s arrival on Mid-world completes a cosmic triangle that could decide the fate of the entire Universe. Because while Roland realizes he can use Jake to find the Man in Black (catching him is all Roland is interested in), Jake has a target on his back because he holds the key to the destruction of the Dark Tower. The Man in Black is determined to bring the Tower down, which will unleash the hellish darkness the Tower protects the Universe from.
This movie could have been good and the most frustrating thing is, not only did it have seven novels of source material to work with (several of epic length), but you can also see the seeds of a good movie dancing just around the edges. But in the end, The Dark Tower suffers (and I mean really suffers) from poor direction and even worse screenwriting.
Director Nikolaj Arcel keeps The Dark Tower moving at a brisk pace, but while there are plenty of summer movies that could take a lesson from that approach, this actually hurts the film rather than help it. Arcel’s pace prevents anything resembling a compelling story to take shape. Tower takes portions from three or four of the books and unsuccessfully shoves them together into an hour and a half, resulting in a narrative mess with no emotional weight. King was able to build the Tower’s cosmic significance, Roland’s obsession with it as well as his revered stature (he was essentially a rock star on Mid-World) over time. The atmosphere of rough romance and charm that came to be a signature of some (though not all) of the novels is completely lacking here.
Even the climactic battle between the Gunslinger and the Man in Black falls flat despite so much potential. The Dark Tower fails to accomplish any of the things that made the books great (or successful) not only out of a lack of execution, but also out of a lack of trying.
While it’s always easy to blame the names on the marquee, you can’t fault either Elba or McConaughy here. You can occasionally see the seeds of their characters’ true core, their potential and the foundations of what made them natural (and impossibly long) rivals simmering beneath the surface. But it isn’t the actors that knee cap the characters, rather it’s the lacking script and poor direction.
I really wanted to enjoy this movie. Even more, I wanted it to be good (or solid at the very least). But at the end of the day The Dark Tower is its own worst enemy. It tries to do too much and fails to do anything at all as a result.
The Dark Tower has long been considered impossible to adapt. Rumours have flown for years, and at one point it seemed they were planning on doing a series of movies with an HBO style TV show filling in the gaps between films (Sony is indeed doing a Dark Tower show with Elba in a limited capacity, though there are no details as of yet). But while I remain convinced that this story could be told in a series of well-executed movies, this version is, at best, a lesson in what not to do.