KEY CAST MEMBERS: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Nicholas Paulding and Jackie Earle Haley
WRITER(S): Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay); Stephen King (based on the novels by)
DIRECTOR(S): Nikolaj Arcel
While Jake’s mom (Claudia Kim) and stepdad (Nicholas Paulding) think whatever Jake is seeing is made up, Jake himself quickly learns that it is not once he sees people from his vision in his home that are supposedly from a clinic designed to help kids like him. Fast-forward a bit and Jake then realizes that the man in black is Walter (Matthew McConaughey), a sorcerer who is determined to collapse the dark tower from his dreams. Jake also discovers that the gunslinger is named Roland (Idris Elba), a man who is the last of his kind and determined to stop Walter.
(On a personal note, Roland is also seeking revenge against Walter for what he did to his father – Dennis Haysbert – but you’ll learn more about that as the story goes on.)
And as Jake is soon about to discover, his role in either saving or destroying not only his world but all of those in existence is a critical one indeed …
SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? The cinematic equivalent to a frozen version of your favorite restaurant chain’s food in your local grocery store, The Dark Tower is a fast and loose adaptation of what is the introduction to what is the Stephen King Universe (literally) that needs to be slower, steadier and more serious than it is.
The Dark Tower was once considered to be a project too arduous to possibly film in one take … Looking at the finished result, that coupled with reports of a troubled production make that idea seems to ring truer than ever as just about everything in the film feels truncated even if like (ADMISSION: yours truly) you’ve not read one page of the book. Plot points feel rushed, dialogue is boiled down to the most simplistic of exchanges and – at 91 minutes – and the film has an aforementioned Cliff Notes® feel to it. I can almost imagine this exchange at many offices across the country come next Monday:
Person 1: “I saw The Dark Tower this weekend.”
Person 2: “I read the books but was going to wait – how was it?”
Person 1, who has not read the books: “It was good. I liked how the made everything seem like one big world but didn’t overdo it with too many details to keep the story simple so that the Gunslinger’s final confrontation with The Man in Black was tense.”
Person 2: “What did you think of the connections to The Shining and 1408? How was Stephen King’s character in the movie versus how it was in the books? Did you catch all the high speech references?”
Person 1, feeling flop sweat forming: “Yeah … Oh man – I need coffee.”
Then again, even if you are Person 1 in this scenario, you might realize that the story feels a bit, well, dry, given its reputation as King’s magnum opus work given the generic feel of film. Instead of intense, gripping drama, you get paint-by-numbers “and the bad guy does this and the good guy reacts like this” storytelling with McConaughey playing the cool villain like Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in the mid-90s and Elba as the straight-laced (a.k.a. borderline boring) man after him. It’s rare that you want a movie to be longer, but with The Dark Tower, save from Taylor’s pretty stellar turn as young Jake Chambers, you don’t care so much about the story other than seeing what you already just know has to be coming. (And if a Stephen King story feels predictable, that cannot be good, right?)
Throw in scenes that feel thrown in just to exist, the fact McConaughey’s character seemingly could kill EVERYONE in EVERY universe simply by saying it into reality EXCEPT Roland apparently for reasons that are not clearly detailed and, most important of all, does NOTHING to make itself seem distinct (as so many other King stories have) other than being a distilled good-versus-evil Western and what do you have?
A rather generic film made from what is supposed to be one of the most distinct stories in an acclaimed writer’s bibliography. The movie is OK, but it’s nothing special – and that’s a shame that when the goal should have clearly been for director Nikolaj Arcel and company to not have forgotten the face of their story’s father.