While I haven’t read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, I had some friends who loved it and hey, the trailer looked pretty good. Turns out, the trailer showed a bit too much and surprisingly enough, it wasn’t that dark. Opening this weekend with a PG-13 rating, I’m assuming it’s the guns that make them tack the 13 on it because at one point I remember thinking to myself, this is pretty tame for a movie about saving the universe from demons. However it wasn’t it’s timid nature, nor its star, Idris Elba, that made this movie fall flat for me.
The Dark Tower is a 6 to 7 book series that, according to my friends who are die hard fans, is one of King’s stranger works. It follows the Gunslinger, played by Elba in the film, as he chases the Man In Black, who in this case is Matthew McConaughey not Johnny Cash across the desert in an attempt to protect the tower that is there to keep the universe safe. Of course, being a Stephen King novel, there is much more to it than that, however, that’s the general basis they seemed to use while making this flick, keep it simple. In striving to do that though, they went overboard, or I guess in this case, didn’t go overboard.
While I may not be an avid reader of King’s works, I am a fan of many of his movies including Thinner, Dolores Claiborne, Misery, and one of my favorites The Shining. The problem is, they were all really well done films and adaptations of his work whereas The Dark Tower, directed by Danish Filmmaker, Nikolaj Arcel, is a watered down shoot ‘em up flick that rushes through a 6 book saga by watering it down untiil it’s a weird kid version of a gun toting action movie. From what I saw and what my friends have shared about the book, this had the ingredients for a great multi movie saga or maybe even a Netflix type mini series, however it seems Arcel, also responsible for the screenplay, believed he could trim enough off to still deliver a quality picture. In the end though, he sacrificed character and plot development for what wound up being a weird modern take on a spaghetti western with a sci-fi twist which sounds like it would be awesome, but sadly, falls flat.
Idris Elba as the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, is literally the best part of this movie but despite his efforts, he can not redeem this flick. The only character to get some background and basic development, he steals most scenes he is in and remains the shining light amongst what should be complex characters that end up being one dimensional, one note write offs that make it hard to buy into or invest in the story. For instance, take Walter O’Dim, aka the Man In Black. The evil villain in the story, he is hell bent on taking down the tower and bringing on the apocalypse yet his motivations are never revealed beyond a quick quip about the inevitable end and getting there sooner rather than later. Villains are there to be hated, the more evil they are, the more you love to hate them. The Man In Black left me with a feeling of “meh.” His ultimate power is akin to the Jedi mind trick without the victim repeating the order. I totally had a “George Lucas is gonna sue somebody” moment the first time, because it becomes very overdone when he uses the classic Star Wars trick.
However, no amount of Jedi throwbacks or other pop culture references could save this movie from coming up short. The main character, Jake, played by relative newcomer Tom Taylor, is an underdeveloped hero whose story somewhat unfolds as the movie goes on but never really enough to rally behind him. We know he lost his dad to some kind of tragic accident that involves darkness and fire but we aren’t given much detail beyond Jake being in therapy for the incident. The movie itself expects the audience to do a lot of assuming about things and considering it takes generous liberties in straying from the source material, it’s a pretty arrogant approach that ends up failing. In fact, it seemed to focus more on small easter egg style references to other King films and pop culture than it did on its own plot.
The action scenes are all pretty much in the trailer and those that aren’t, are not the least bit groundbreaking or epic. In their final showdown, the Gunslinger and the MIB battle it out in a Matrix style fight where you just keep waiting for McConaughey to say “there is no spoon.” All of that said though, the acting shines more than anything else in the movie. You can see the three main characters as well as some of the supporting, doing the best they can with the material they’ve been given. McConaughey seems to suffer the most from the poorly written character dilemma as he just never hits it home as an evil villain. Elba stands out because the character does, and I mean, come on, it’s Idris Elba. Not for nothing but, I’ve never seen a Bond movie and didn’t really like this movie however, after nailing his performance as Roland in a movie that’s crumbling down around him, I would absolutely become a Bond fan if they cast that man.
While the book is a series of novels that would by no means be considered an easy read, the movie is the opposite. At its core, it’s entertaining, it’s definitely not the worst movie I’ve ever seen but it IS one of the worst Stephen King film adaptations. Its an easy watch, not complicated but not great either. This had the potential to draw people who weren’t necessarily King fans and possibly hook them in for the upcoming It remake as well but it wound up being a dud and from what I can tell, it didn’t seem to impress fans of the literary series either. It might seem like a fun summer action movie but don’t be fooled by the trailer, or better yet, just watch the trailer, you’ll be less disappointed.