It’s been ten years since Stephen King sold the film rights to his magnum opus series The Dark Tower. A decade long wait filled with actor and director name dropping, studios bouncing in and out of the funding lottery, and an endless debate of depicting the material on TV or film or both to leave us here, with the release of the drab, dull, and lifeless Dark Tower movie. Starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as Roland the Gunslinger and Walter the Man in Black respectively, this film straddles the line of good and bad and ends up somewhere in the murky middle.The Dark Tower is stuck, pointlessly, in the middle of adequacy, and it only makes the watching experience more frustrating.
The story begins with Jake, a mostly normal pre-teen kid that is plagued by nightmares that appear to be visions. These visions show Jake the world of Walter and Roland, two entities constantly at war. Roland as a Gunslinger is sworn to defend The Dark Tower, a Tower that stands to protect all the different worlds of Earth from the darkness and monsters that exist beyond. Walter, aka The Man in Black, has made it his life’s mission to bring down the Tower to release what is beyond so that he may bring death to all worlds. Jake becomes obsessed with these visions, recreating what he sees in drawings on a page, drawings which eventually lead him to a portal to Roland and Walter’s world. When Jake finds Roland, he convinces him to work together to defeat Walter and save the Tower once and for all.
The most frustrating part of putting that brief synopsis together is that the majority of what I said isn’t actually explained in the film. I had to pull on my prior knowledge of Stephen King’s excellent book series to fill in the gaps of my own understanding. This film is not a direct adaptation of any of the books in the series, and that is where many of the problems begin. Instead of homing in on a particular strong element or story from one of the books, the filmmakers have pulled ideas and character moments from all of the books in order to create a film that supposedly takes place after the events of the final in the series. If that doesn’t sound misguided and convoluted to you, more power to you.
The film moves at a very swift pace, making sure that a lull can never work its way in. What results is some amateurish editing that looks like a first year filmmaking student put together to somehow prove to his professor that more jump cuts are a good idea. The acting is top notch, except for supporting parts turned in by Kathryn Winnick and Jackie Earle Haley, and that is only due to an outshining by Elba, McConaughey, and Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, as well as to a script that simply has no space for a worried mother and a supporter of the Man in Black. It’s worth noting that the three leads are perfectly cast. McConaughey specifically as he brings the right level of glee to a man that simply enjoys causing death and destruction. Taylor and Elba work well together; in such limited time they are able to establish a bond that the audience can care about and that speaks to their chemistry on screen. Elba’s confidence with a gun and silent but thoughtful approach to each conflict make it easy to imagine him as James Bond, a film franchise in hindsight that is worthier of his talents.
None of the film’s strongest performers had good material to work with in this screenplay, much less to have enough of it. With four screenwriters having a credit on this film, it’s hard to see any one of them having a strong influence on the overall narrative and dialogue, and it just makes everything too muddled to make sense or to enjoy fully. For now, if you want to enjoy The Dark Tower, read the books, and hope to God that the television series is a more worthwhile trip.