Film Review – The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower
Let’s go ahead and generously call Nikolaj Arcel‘s long-gestating The Dark Tower adaptation “minor King.” The potential franchise starter based on Stephen King‘s sprawling series of fantasy novels is nothing if not slight, much to its detriment.
An unabashed King fan, I’ve personally only read through the series’ fourth installment, Wizard and Glass. That’s enough to know adapting it at all is a risky and presumably unenviable prospect. It went through many forms before falling into the hands of Arcel, and his approach is, let’s say, subtle.
Idris Elba stars as Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, and is the lacking film’s only source of gravitas. For the uninitiated, Roland is a traveler of multiple dimensions, forever in pursuit of Walter O’Dim, AKA The Man In Black. Some egregiously clunky exposition informs us that MIB is determined to topple the titular Dark Tower, a structure that literally holds the universe together. His motivation? Like so many things in this movie, it remains frustratingly unclear.
Upon hearing of Matthew McConaughey‘s casting as Walter, I was pleased. Excited even. In my mind’s eye, MIB was a smooth-talking son of a bitch. Cool as a cucumber. While that description all but screams McConaughey, he instead plays him so over the top I found myself stifling laughter at lines meant to intimidate. (“Have a great apocalypse” is a literal line in this literal movie.) His motivations are bafflingly unclear and, despite being an honest to god sorcerer, he mostly seems content barking orders at his henchmen and taunting Roland from afar.
We’re introduced to this so-called Mid-World through Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy plagued with nightmare visions of the dueling men who becomes convinced they are real. He seems to spend his days feverishly drawing these visions and trying to convince his mom and shitty stepdad he isn’t crazy. His therapist scoffs, despite the earth literally shaking when he brings it up to him. He (eventually) discovers a portal to Mid-World and inexplicably becomes Roland’s boring second half.
At a mere 95 minutes, one of The Dark Tower‘s biggest sins is taking a full 15 – 20 minutes to get to the story. With thousands upon thousands of pages of source material to draw from, why spend so much time out of the gate following a kid mope around? We get it. Jake’s sad his dad died. Jake’s new dad is a jerk. Jake needs a father figure. Arcel hammers this trope hard over our heads.
It is not entirely without its charms. As mentioned, Elba brings a weight to the Gunslinger I only wish the script could support. Another trope, “fish out of water goes to the big city,” sees Roland experiencing the pleasures of hot dogs and Coca-Cola. I generally hate these kinds of montages but he manages to elicit a few chuckles.
I’m not sure who this version of The Dark Tower is for. King devotees will no doubt be turned off by its sparseness, and newbies will be tasked with making sense of the convoluted plot. I had high hopes for this adaptation and could now care less whether or not it gets another go. Let’s hope It is a win so this summer isn’t a total wash.