I’m guessing there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed Dark Tower fans after they watch THE DARK TOWER (2017), the new fantasy thriller based on the epic novels by Stephen King.
There are eight novels in the series, and while I haven’t read any of them, the idea that this very short movie— it clocks in at a meager 95 minutes— could do an eight book series justice is difficult to fathom. It’s just too quick and inconsequential.
Strangely, this movie version of THE DARK TOWER is supposedly a sequel of sorts to the series, as the events in the film take place after the book series ends, and I also hear there’s a possible TV series in the works. Now, a television series makes sense to me. That’s exactly the kind of canvas needed to do a book series proper justice. The movie THE DARK TOWER as it stands would barely do a short story justice.
In a nutshell— and that’s what this movie felt like, really— THE DARK TOWER is about a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who’s struggling to cope with life after the death of his father. He’s haunted by recurring bad dreams in which he sees a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and it seems this Man in Black is trying to destroy a black tower, and the Gunslinger is trying to prevent this.
Jake’s mom Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) arranges for Jake to spend a weekend at an institution so he can receive help, since he’s getting into fights at school and generally having a difficult time with life, but Jake runs away and finds a portal which leads him into the world of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black. There, he befriends the Gunslinger and helps him in his fight to stop the Man in Black from destroying the world, which will happen once the dark tower is destroyed.
The plot for THE DARK TOWER isn’t going to win any awards for the most compelling screenplay ever written. The story is simple and isn’t fleshed out in the least. And four writers worked on this thing: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel. Not that it mattered.
The story as told in this movie left me with so many unanswered questions. Who is the Man in Black? Why is he hell-bent on destroying Earth? Who is the Gunslinger? Why is he the man in charge of killing the Man in Black? The movie provides no back stories on these characters. I also wanted to know more about young Jake.
Things happen too quickly and too easily. Jake finds his way into the Gunslinger’s world with about as much effort as entering a neighbor’s front door.
Again, for a movie based on an eight book series by Stephen King, the story it tells is about as skeletal as you can get.
Nor is THE DARK TOWER all that visually impressive. Director Nikolaj Arcel’s vision of the Dark Tower and its surrounding world is meh. Not much too look at, and not much going on. The scenes which take place in New York City work better, and the whole film plays better when the characters interact in modern-day surroundings. Every time they enter the world of the Dark Tower the film slows to a crawl.
I’m a big Idris Elba fan, but he continues to land film roles in which he just isn’t allowed to do much. He’s terrific in the lead role on the TV series LUTHER (2010-2018) but he’s yet to land a movie role in which he’s allowed to show off his talents. Still, I enjoyed him here as the Gunslinger.
Likewise, I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black as well. He was sufficiently cold and nasty, a decent villain. Although his power to make people do whatever he says has been done a lot lately, especially on TV, from the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the Netflix Marvel series JESSICA JONES (2015), to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) in the AMC series PREACHER (2016-).
In fact, my favorite part of THE DARK TOWER was watching Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They’re the best part of the movie, although neither one made me really like this movie all that much. But when they’re on-screen, and they’re actually engaging in dialogue rather than running around in bland action scenes, the film is much better. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do this all that much.
Tom Taylor is decent as Jake Chambers. Seen better, seen worse. The rest of the cast is okay but hardly memorable. Speaking of the TV show PREACHER, Jackie Earle Haley who was so memorable in Season 1 of that show, barely causes a stir here in a thankless role as one of the Man in Black’s minions, Sayre.
I was fairly entertained by THE DARK TOWER, but for an adventure fantasy thriller based on an eight book series by Stephen King, it’s pretty sparse. Sadly, it’s yet another example of an inferior adaptation of a Stephen King work.
But it’s not awful. It’s just not that good.
At the end of the day, it’s just an inconsequential blip on the Dark Tower universe.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.