Sincere condolences, Stephen King fans. My words greet you today as a pulverizer of hope; a dasher of dreams. Here to confirm that Hollywood’s adaptation of The Dark Tower – which some have waited *literal* decades to behold – will be forgotten in the smallest possible fraction of that timeframe. A property so fantastical, yet a film so uninspired. Monochromatic color palettes, sloppy animation hidden behind pitch-blackness, obvious impairment by an overabundance of decision makers – laziness and complication, in other words. Director Nikolaj Arcel blends dystopian weirdness and temporal hellbeasts until all that remains is an emulsified, grey gunk, which is then forced down our throats for 95 minutes. Flavor gone, identifiers eviscerated.
We open on Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a troubled boy who suffers from canonical nightmares. Those of a rugged “Gunslinger” and a ghoulish “Man In Black.” Beings with fake flesh and child imprisonment camps. They wage war in Jake’s dreams, but his recollections become too vivid (transferred to disturbing drawings pinned to his wall). Mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) worries, then schedules a weekend asylum visit for testing purposes. That’s when Jake is confronted by the skin-suited people from his visions and he runs.
Fast-forward past a fight with an actual house (house monster?) followed by portal hopping, and he meets Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) – the Gunslinger. Then Walter (Matthew McConaughey), the evil “Man In Black” who wields incomprehensible “magics.” Walter wants to destroy a “Dark Tower” that’s preventing an impending apocalypse, Roland wants to protect it (kill Walter). Did I mention Jake has special mental powers that Walter needs to destroy said tower? Enter Roland’s other duty, playing bodyguard.
That’s about all The Dark Tower explains – the rest is up to interpretation.
Other characters exist in the film’s world, but none matter. Arcel confirms this by offering no depth of personality or by ignoring their existence altogether (like pests). Take Abbey Lee as Tirana, whose name I didn’t know until checking The Dark Tower‘s IMDB page. Walter’s right-hand woman, it seems? Her introduction delivers bad news (Jake using a portal without detection), says no more and gets burn-punished. No conclusion or redemption, possibly proving herself to Walter in a final fit of devotion? Not exactly the “comic relief,” but that’s why Fran Kranz spouts important-sounding data as Walter’s…tech genius? Sounds right. He can be found in Walter’s remote warehouse hideaway wearing a flannel top and casual slacks while everyone else dons fully-tailored uniforms. Maybe that’s all Kranz had to wear and production ran out of costumes. Wouldn’t be surprised.
Are you beginning to feel the haphazardness? It gets worse.
Walter’s crew is comprised of furry rat-people who are forced to wear human sausage casings, because, well, that’s who Walter employs. Are Kranz or Lee the same species? Don’t know. Where do these mutant rodents come from? This information is deemed not important. Four separate writers gloss over unexplained details such as this, but we haven’t even touched on the screenplay’s greatest hits (er…biggest blunders).
Does Walter kill the children who are picked to power his underage mind cannon (that assaults the film’s all-important tower)? What’s with the homeless dude who can read Jake, who Walter let free? How is Roland impervious to Walter? Why can Walter catch multiple bullets with his hands but not stop them with other fleshy locations? How does Jackie Earl Haley’s Earth-suit not rip during a brawl that smashes through multiple panes of glass? HOW DOES THE CLIMAX END SO ABRUPTLY, WITH A SINGLE EXPLOSION-CAUSING ROUND!? Underdevelopment reaches much farther, as this is but a taste of the negligence at play. Go ahead. Focus on “McConaughey vs. Elba” and hopefully distract 99% of audiences. Too bad the ruse barely holds for a handful of scenes.
“Maybe because basic storytelling pillars are ignored, The Dark Tower grades presentation on epic levels of wonder!” Think again, you sweet, innocent soul who’s yet to be crushed from the inside.
Take your pick, here. Sound design? Elba’s raspy voice fluctuates volume and clarity during his first “19-19” territory meet-up. Action? An entire moonlit creature battle goes unnoticed because Arcel dims the brightness as to hide some shameful 3AM mistake. CGI? Huge pass here, from flying glass shards to a monster made from splintered wood planks. Movie magic starts and ends with Roland reloading his six-shooters with increasing difficulty, and even then, effects work barely matches impressiveness. Overall? Just a hodgepodge of mainstream gunplay that would have been more enjoyable given actual optical clarity.
With all that said – cards on the table – neither Elba nor McConaughey offer poor performances. Elba is the gruff, tormented maverick you’d expect him to be typecast as. McConaughey, on the flip-side, may ascend the ranks to “Wackiest Villain Of The Year” honors. Always talking about his “magics” (drop the “s,” man) or pining over Keystone Earth’s delicious poultry products (Laurie walks in on Walter sizzling chicken over a stove, and it is, no argument, the most magical moment of The Dark Tower). Taylor ends up drawing main-character focus away from Elba more than we’d hope, while the rivalry between deadshot cowboy and black-thumb wizard makes us wish for more feisty standoffs. Their brooding gazes always one-upping, truly missed when Elba’s biggest challenge comes in the form of an NYC bullet frenzy with countless (aim-impaired) henchmen.
For a few brief moments, The Dark Tower unleashes King’s dread-soaked ideas with equal fancy. A red cloud zaps lighting as demonic forms struggle to push through, like nightmares being birthed out of thin air. But when I say brief, I mean blink-and-you-miss-it. Otherwise, Nikolaj Arcel rolls through Act 1 (no one listens to a crazy kid with wicked drawings), blurs Act 2 (fish-out-of-water comedy *barely* works), and resolves Act 3 with an insultingly dismissive climax. Nothing matters in those last moments. Not plot. Not detail. Most certainly not Fran Kranz. You’d think a movie with mystical “Gunslingers” whose revolvers are made from Excalibur’s blade would evoke more legend, but The Dark Tower is as unique as a squirrel in the suburbs. Plain and simple? Set your sights on disappointment.
The Dark Tower is a shot-to-the-heart of cinematic intrigue, as Stephen King's beloved story loses all magic in its big-screen adaptation.
The Dark Tower Review