The Dark Tower Movie Review
If you're trying to start a franchise, why in hell would you want to compress seven incredibly creative books into a 95-minutes movie? If you have Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey on your payroll, why would you make the main character a no-name child actor?
After years of attempts, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is here, and it's everything you don't want it to be. It's not the dumpster fire one might expect given rumblings of a director out of his depth and a middling studio unsure how to adapt a very complex, genre-bending story to the big screen, but it at best is an interesting failure, a movie that scene by scene works well enough but as a whole is a cluttered mess.
I'm halfway through reading book 3 and have no clue where the rest will lead, but very little of what made it to theaters resembles what I've read so far. What's astonishing is that the first book in the series, The Gungslinger, would make for a great movie and require little of the ambitious world building that is ultimately necessary to tell The Dark Tower in a way that doesn't make it look like a lame SyFy channel movie--and trust me, when the movie begins by telling us what the Tower is and the screams of children, channeled as a power beam that you see in just about every comic book and sci-fi movie these days, can destroy it, it starts off full Sharknado.
But where The Dark Tower goes disastrously wrong is how it approaches the story itself. So far in the books, Roland (Idris Elba) is the main character. We are introduced to this man--scarred, cruel, uncaring except for his dual drive to a) get to the Tower and b) kill the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). At some point he connects with Jake, a kid from New York City that has somehow ended up in Roland’s world. Things get battier from there, but the story is propelled by Roland’s obsession--even though he doesn’t know why he is obsessed, and the reader doesn’t really know what the Tower is or what the hell is going on.
Sadly, in the movie, the why and how get spelled out for you in the film’s first few minutes, leaving little mystery (and worse, the why and how are pretty damn stupid). Further, the story is told through Jake (Tom Taylor), not Roland, which not only gives the movie a lame Neverending Story or Chronicles of Narnia vibe, but, at 90 minutes long, reduces Roland to a gruff character stripped of any unique characteristics. Elba is a great fit for the role, but the role he’s been given is a neutered, utterly forgettable one.
Character depth, purpose and connectivity are absent throughout. Matthew McConaughey is largely wasted in a caricature of a role, left to meddle with humanity like some uninteresting version of Loki trying to tear a gap in our universe so it can be invaded by a bunch of demons. And no matter what you think of Taylor--he’s fine--the fact that neither Roland nor the Man in Black are very interesting dooms this Stephen King adaptation to the fate of most Stephen King adaptations: it kind of sucks.
The Dark Tower looks okay and it has some entertainment value, but director Nikolaj Arcel fails to tap into what makes the books so compelling--and books aside, establish an experience that feels fleshed out, exciting or grand. The story is supposed to be King’s epic akin to The Lord of the Rings, but there is absolutely nothing epic about this direct-to-TV shrugfest.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.