Since the publishing of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger in 1982, Stephen King fans have been dying to see the story brought to life on the big screen. With the sheer volume of movies, miniseries, and TV series adapted from the works of King, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Hollywood told the tale The Dark Tower in some way, shape, or form. Many studios and networks knew the difficulties that would come with trying to adapt a story spanning eight books, but it's a task which director Nikolaj Arcel didn't shy away from. However, after fans have waited 35 years for this Dark Tower movie to arrive, they'll end up wishing studios had waited a bit longer, in order to do the series proper justice.
The film's story centers on eleven-year-old James Chambers (Tom Taylor), who is plagued by visions of a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a "Gunslinger" (Idris Elba), and a mythical Dark Tower. Jake is told by his parents, classmates, and psychiatrist, that it's all in his head, but after a particularly vivid dream, he seeks out a house depicted in one of his nightmares, only to stumble upon a mysterious portal. After being transported to another world, Jake's only chance of survival turns out to be the Gunslinger from his dreams, Roland Deschain.
Jake's new acquaintance informs him that the visions are real, and that the Man in Black is out to destroy the Dark Tower, which is the only object keeping various dimensions from colliding. Jake and Roland set out to stop the Man in Black from tearing their worlds apart, attempting to stave off death and darkness just a little bit longer.
Stephen King's Dark Tower novels are a unique and compelling blend of dark fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and westerns - but the material doesn't translate into a lean, 95-minute movie very well. Dark Tower is bogged down by too much mythology, in too little time, forcing the overall tone of the film to suffer in disastrous ways. At times, the film feels like a family-friendly buddy comedy; at others, a genuine horror film. Even when the movie succeeds at a scene of exposition of myth-building, the next scene rushes viewers down another wormhole of overly-complicated lore.
It's no surprise that Idris Elba gets picked by fans to embody their favorite characters, as the actor is a powerhouse of charm, fearlessness, and stoicism. To look back at the entire film and see which scenes worked, you'd find that Elba's Gunslinger was an integral part of all those moments, whether they were comedic or deeply dramatic.
Matthew McConaughey, on the other hand, struggled to determine the film's tone, just like his director. He plays the campy villain quite effectively - only in a film that never tells the viewer if you are supposed to laugh with or at him. It's easy to know that the character is meant to be evil incarnate, but we're never really given motivations for any of his actions - other than, well, he's evil incarnate. The actor's performance is sure to snag a nomination at the end of the year, but it will mostly likely be for a Razzie, instead of an Oscar.
Some of the action scenes border on entertaining, as we see exactly why Roland is "The Gunslinger," but those scenes are both poorly staged and poorly lit, as if the sequences were only thought up the day the cast arrived. Thankfully, Elba's performance sells the swagger of The Gunslinger, without really having to put the skills on display much.
It's hard to believe the film was given a budget of only $60 million. Were the filmmakers allowed to embrace all of the fantastical themes of the original books, without financial limitations, it's possible that The Dark Tower could have succeeded. Sadly, what audiences are getting is both too little and too much, at the same time. The film succeeds as an introduction to some of the concepts and themes of the series, but ultimately gets cut short, and barely grazes many of the novels' complex themes.
Fans who have been hoping to see a talented actor like Idris Elba transform into Roland Deschain will enjoy the movie. However, if you were hoping to see an adequate adaptation of King's highly celebrated works, you'll want to hold out for someone else's attempt.
The Dark Tower opens in theaters on August 4th. It is 95 minutes long and rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.
Rating: 2 Out of 5 Stars