If you loved Stephen King’s self-proclaimed Magnum Opus, The Dark Tower, an eight-book series featuring multiple Earths and a Gunslinger set to save the universe, then you should save your money and re-read the novels. The premise of this film is an extension of the original narrative. It is not a faithful adaptation of The Gunslinger, which is the first novel in the series.
In this film, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) lives in New York City with his meek mother and unloving stepfather. Jake pines over the death of his father, a fire captain, killed in a fire while attempting to save several people. He has visions and dreams of Matthew McConaughey’s the Man In Black (not to be confused with all of the other men in black throughout pop culture, literature, music, TV, and film), the Gunslinger (Idris Elba), and a Dark Tower. Everyone thinks Jake’s crazy and wants to ship him off to a “psycho camp”. He narrowly escapes capture from the Man In Black’s henchmen and discovers a portal to another Earth where he finds The Gunslinger. None of this should be considered spoilers since it’s all shown in the trailers. Actually, every plot point in the entire film is shown in the trailers except a single humorous question posed shortly before the credits roll. This is part of the issue with the film.
The Dark Tower has been in production for the better part of a decade, with auteurs such as JJ Abrams and Ron Howard attached to the director before it became an amalgam of various big name companies vying for control over the storyline with absolute kill power over anything they didn’t like. The four screenwriters, in addition to Stephen King, listed in the credits should tip off the audience to the fact that there were too many cooks in the kitchen.
While King’s initial book was full of tired tropes, his talent found ways to make those characters and plot devices relatively fresh and seemingly exciting. Unfortunately, he did not write the film. Explaining away how The Gunslinger’s revolvers are forged from the steel of what we Earthlings call Excalibur, or writing a revenge story that attempts to slap us in the face with the fact that it’s a revenge story by reminding us every 10 minutes lent itself to a super thin plot that hinges simply on the hope that people who loved the book series will throw money at this film before hearing the reviews.
Relative newcomer Tom Taylor (who has four credits to TV shows you probably haven’t seen) plays Jake, who we’re told is a psychic with “the shine” (one of the only nods to King’s other works). The Man In Black is hunting Jake in an attempt to use his powers to destroy The Dark Tower, which will supposedly open the wall to all sorts of demons that the tower serves to guard the Earth (multiple Earths) against. If this is confusing, it’s okay because we’re confused too. Taylor is absolutely forgettable in this role and only emotes in a single brief scene at the death of a character we don’t care much about.
However, it’s not Taylor’s name that was meant to draw the ticket-buying audience. Matthew McConaughey, as Walter, the Man In Black, and Idris Elba, as Roland the Gunslinger share top billing. McConaughey does what he does best – he plays Matthew McConaughey, but this time he’s an evil dude who can make cute little fireballs with his hands and command people to do things like die, hate, and kill each other. The only person he seemingly cannot control is Roland, but we have no idea why and are never told. Of the two leads, Elba is the more exciting choice, but again the thin plot really doesn’t give him much to do other than brood, speak curtly, and try to explain plot points to the audience.
This is an entire film of exposition that clearly was sliced and diced into the editing room floor, which is obvious, not only with the 95-minute runtime, but also the super quick, badly edited pacing that leaves a lot to be desired. The audience cannot feel empathy towards these characters without development, and the story spends too much time attempting to tell us what motivates Roland by replaying the same flashback multiple times.
As the film limped paltrily along, director Nikolaj Arcel seems to attempt to introduce various plot lines, but inexplicably drops them later on. For example, there’s a scene where Roland teaches Jake the Gunslinger’s credo. He then has him shoot, but quickly tells Jake he would not be partaking in the slinging of said guns. The movie clearly delineates that gunslingers are passed down through blood, but a short time later in the film, after Roland says Jake won’t be shooting, he addresses him as “gunslinger”. Again, huh? And what about The Crimson King? In the novel series he’s the big bad boss of Walter who plays a significant role, but here he’s relegated to a graffiti reference on a building wall. Initially, the internet was buzzing with the Crimson King, but then he’s left on the cutting room floor as well.
Arcel and his gaggle of writers and controlling entities don’t allow The Dark Tower to be anything but a poorly executed project that should’ve been left in pre-production. This reviewer left the theater wondering where the rest of the movie went, hoping they’ll release an extended cut, and wishing the damn tower just hurried up and fell after about the first twenty minutes of drabble.
The Dark Tower:
About The Dark Tower
Synopsis: Based on the Stephen King book series, The Dark Tower finds The Gunslinger (Idris Alba) pitted against The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) in a race to save the multiverse by deterring the destruction of the dark tower. Enter psychic teen Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who has visions of the tower’s demise and the struggle to save not only his Earth but many others.
Directors: Nikolaj Arcel
Writers: Akiva Goldsmith (screenplay), Jeff Pinker (screenplay), Anders Thomas Jensen (screenplay), Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay), and Stephen King (based on the novels by)
Stars: Idris Alba, Matthew McConaughey
Runtime: 1 Hour, 35 minutes