Stephen King probably has more book-to-film adaptations to his credit than any other author possibly ever. This year two of his works are seeing big-screen releases, the first being a cinematic continuation of his much-celebrated “Dark Tower” series. The cinematic version of “The Dark Tower” is touted as the beginning of a larger series of projects, including a television series, and has had a lot of expectations thrust upon it by hard core fans of the book series. Sadly their skepticism is proven on point as “The Dark Tower” comes off as a rushed, hollow, and poorly executed presentation of an otherwise intriguing story.
“The Dark Tower” supposedly picks up after the events of the final book in the “Dark Tower” novels (full disclosure I have not read the books). We find young boy Jake Chambers, played by Tom Taylor, struggling to make sense of vivid and realistic dreams about another world outside of our own. In his dreams he sees Matthew McConaughey’s villainous “Man in Black” Walter Padick as well as Idris Elba’s Roland Deschain, aka “The Gunslinger”, who are rivals in a world torn apart by war, sorcery, and time. When Chamber finds his way into the gunslinger’s world and discovers everything he dreamed was true and part of a hidden gift, he becomes the target of the Man in Black who seeks to utilize Chambers as the tool to toppling the one thing that keeps worlds separate and safe from each other, the Dark Tower itself.
As far as acting goes, this film’s isn’t horrible but I’ve seen a lot better and much of the issues can probably be attributed to the lack of substance in the overall project. Idris Elba is the main star as the gunslinger Roland, a master of small firearms who is somehow resistant to his enemy’s magic which leaves him as the final gunslinger left. Elba portrays Roland as a broken and torn gunman on a quest for revenge and while it does fit the personality of the character on screen there’s just something missing. Roland is a likable guy and a badass when we do see him in action but despite the many ayer clearly present in the character, the most interesting aspect of this character is his ability with a gun and we only really see one major shootout scene that shows us everything we came to see. The gunslinger is a character with potential, and a tragic backstory to boot, that probably could have used more time and development in this film to truly appreciate. Instead his characterization and growth is rushed, like almost everything in this movie, leaving little time to appreciate anything behind his talent with a trigger.
Newcomer Tom Tayler plays the young protagonist of the film Jake Chambers, who himself shows a bit of growth as he learns his special abilities and enters the world of the gunslinger as a underestimated child many thought was crazy for his dream images. Taylor tries his best to make Chambers a truly impactful character, but once again we find a situation where despite the potential for more depth and development we get a very summarized and rushed introduction and growth of an otherwise complex individual with a lot to appreciate. A theme of this film seemed to be that even for the biggest characters there was a certain expectation that viewers would come into this project already aware of who these individuals were and what their motives were with only quick and minor introductions to their backstories and the struggles that have plagued them to this point in their individual lives. It’s just not enough.
One performance I can appreciate is Matthew McConaughey who gave up the role of Ego in “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” to portray the Man in Black in this film and he made the very best of it. I like McConaughey as a villain. He comes with a strange charm that makes him someone you want to trust, but you know you shouldn’t. McConaughey’s evil sorcerer is by far the best part of this film, other than the shootout scene of course, as we see a truly despicable villain with no heart and no mercy. He kills without conscience and makes himself judge, jury, and executioner in every situation, even taking out characters we would normally believe would survive through a film like this. Every shock, surprise, and interesting moment involves him and for everything this film held back it went all out for its big baddy giving us a monster of a man with seemingly endless power who loves to use it. The movie could have used a bit more of this for all its characters as this is the only instance where the filmmakers or any of the actors really seemed to go all-out and present us with what we expected to see.
Looking at the film as a whole the biggest flaw of “The Dark Tower”, if you haven’t guessed by now, is that it is terrible rushed, which was an issue many felt would plague the film from the beginning after learning of its 95-minute run time. I had hoped this might make the film a much better package, but instead that extra time they could have added probably would have made for a much better story with better pacing, more character development, more action, and a MUCH better ending as the film just kind of ends after the final confrontation. I mean it really does take all of five minutes to close this story up when its all said and done and it left me thinking “that’s it, that’s how it ends…well that’s kind of bland isn’t it???”. I don’t know why such an extensive book series got such a summarized cinematic story, but it didn’t help the movie in any way and leaves you wanting more. It deteriorates the film in terms of substance, memorability, and entertainment value and is a perfect example of how sometimes less is not more, it’s just truly less of what everyone actually wanted to enjoy.
Before I close out I also want to touch on the movie’s mythology and story, which has been heavily criticized by some as being contrived and confusing, but I didn’t think so. What little story “The Dark Tower” does present is actually very interesting and fun. There’s just not enough of it to appreciate. We get some great world building, some entertaining and interesting dialogue, and we do have moments to appreciate the unique aspects of the numerous worlds that play into “The Dark Tower’s” plot. For me it wasn’t a film that was hard to follow, it was just insultingly short leaving little time to appreciate anything redeemable about it. There was so much promise in the story, the characters, and the atmosphere, but it’s all wasted in an attempt to present a short, sweet, and concise package that falls flat when all is said and done.
“The Dark Tower” was a project with so much potential, but sadly it not only fails to reach the expectations of fans but it also fails to reach the expectations of almost anyone who went into it hoping for an action packed fantasy adventure. This is a condensed and poorly handled version of a massive novel franchise that fails to show any appreciation for its source material or the fanbase and doesn’t even offer enough substance of its own to make it worthwhile as a standalone project. Sure we get some great shootout moments and a villain worth appreciating, but that’s about all we get. I don’t know what target the filmmaker were shooting at with this project, but they missed in massive fashion.