The Lowdown: This disappointing and confusing adaptation of the Stepken King novels is only saved by fun performances from Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.
The Dark Tower is an eight-book series published by Stephen King between the years of 1982 and 2012. Many fans have long hoped the series, that follows the Gunslinger and his Ka-Tet on their quest to save The Dark Tower, would be adapted for the big screen. Having more recently read the complete series, personally I had hoped it would be adapted for cable like Game of Thrones. Alas it has been adapted for the big screen, but to the surprise of many fans all eight books have been boiled down to one film. How well can over 4000 pages of storytelling be boiled down to one movie? Not well at all. The film The Dark Tower taken on its own isn’t terrible, but it is kind of bland. The creativity that sparked King’s novels has been stripped down to a 90-minute sci-fi actioner that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
When it was announced that Idris Elba had been cast as Roland Deschain the Gunslinger there was a huge reaction from fans—some sadly very negative and frankly racist, but fans did wonder how an African-American gunslinger between him, Eddie, and Odetta/Susannah where race did play a factor in those relationships. It turns out it didn’t matter because there is no Eddie or Susannah in this film. In fact Roland doesn’t really have a Ka-Tet at all. He just has Jake (Tom Taylor). That fits with the first book, but it’s clear there’s no intention to follow the series with the Drawing of the Three or any of the other books—at least in the same way, though I would be shocked if there was a sequel to this.
There are elements of all the books in The Dark Tower, but they can be hard to spot. It’s just little things here and there like Keystone Earth, The Dixie Pig, and the Sombra Corporation popping up every now and then. In this film, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) takes on a nearly omniscient presence. I liked McConaughey’s take on the character. He was unwaveringly evil, which matched the spirit of the character from the novels, however his power seemed so great that it would seem he was unstoppable. The film doesn’t do a great job of explaining why the Man in Black would even view the Gunslinger a threat considering he could just command a person to stop breathing and they would fall on the ground dead. His Jedi mind tricks—er, I mean telekinesis—don’t work on the Gunslinger, but we don’t know why.
Nonetheless McConaughey is fun to watch on screen and that pretty much saves the movie. In this story the Man in Black commands a network of organized crime syndicate on Earth where he kidnaps children to use their psychic energy to try to destroy the tower. We learn the Jake “shines” brighter than all the other children and the Man in Black is sure his energy will destroy the tower once and for all. We also know the Tower protects the Earth, and other worlds, from evil things and that the bad guys want to let those things in. Why? The story’s pretty vague.
So we have a vague and confusing story, which would ordinarily completely kill the film, but there are some cool action sequences with the Gunslinger doing some cool gun slinging and we have the dedicated performances of McConaughey and Elba. They’re fun to watch even if we don’t exactly know what these characters are doing or why they’re doing it. I can’t really recommend this movie other than saying it’s not the worst thing I’ve watched. Fans of the books will probably be disappointed and others will probably just be confused. The good news is that nothing about this film means the series couldn’t be revisited again someday. I’m still hoping for something longer-form that could do the novels justice.
The Dark Tower Images: Sony/Columbia