2017 | PG-13 | starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey | directed by Nikolaj Arcel | 1hr 35min
Studio Pitch: Those “Dark Tower” books are popular, we can probably squeeze a few films and a few bucks off those!
I haven’t read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, but I have physically seen a copy of it and The Gunslinger, and based on the sheer physical size of the books it is safe to say that a lot of Stephen King’s world-building of good, evil, portals to other universes, monsters and the guards of said monsters didn’t make the leap from page to screen with this slimmed down adaptation.
After languishing in development hell forever with 5 credited screenwriters, The Dark Tower film adaptation finally lands in the hands of a relative unknown with Nikolaj Arcel who dutifully and dispassionately goes about the task of assembling a generic studio film and hopeful franchise launcher out of it’s fantasy language and your run-of-the-mill revenge story. The typical problem with a movie based on this size literary work is that it can be too over-stuffed, but the mandate here appeared to be “Simplify!” and so much is pulled out of this story that what we are left with actually feels like it is spinning it’s wheels stretching to fill it’s modest feature length. Instead of being introduced to a massive fantasy world viewers can sink their teeth into, the titular tower stands as a McGuffin so it’s two leads can shoot at each other in a simple, streamlined good vs evil revenge story.
Elba and McConaughey are the big draw here, with McConaughey trying to ride a line between cool and campy and Elba sleepwalking through the film. On exactly two occasions Elba’s disinterested deadpan delivery, almost by accident, collides with some fish-out-of-water comic relief and it works, sending a spike in the film’s cardiac life line for a moment. McConaughey is the Man in Black, but not the Man in Black from “Westworld” or every other western-style take on the black hat trope, a different Man in Black who possesses countless unnamed magical abilities but whose mystic is broken the second Elba calls him by his first name, Walter. Walter is an evil dude because he killed Elba’s father (Dennis Haysbert) and kidnaps children for his plot to use them to power a laser to shoot at and bring down the tower and reak havoc among worlds. He also orders around his henchmen (Fran Kranz and Abbey Lee). But for being the epitome of evil, he never crosses a line that makes him seem truly vile, coming off more like a PG-13-friendly business man who deals in the dark arts. If Elba is supposed to be “Good” we don’t get that either, he’s a broken man of his time simply bent on revenge but never going out of his way to save lives or show a impure heart. The film bides it’s time until we get to see the two face off and Elba bounces bullets off the wall like he was ordered to by The Loom of Destiny and McConaughey flicks them out of his hand like playing cards.
The film takes us into this world from the point of view of a “troubled” kid (Tom Taylor) with special psychic powers called The Shine, which is completely different than The Shining, which make him The One. He is haunted by the death of his father and – after being hunted by face-swapping, kid-hunting skin-suits working for Walter – is brought together with Elba’s Roland so the two can recite a mantra the likes of which is frequently used in Stephen King’s works. The movie grunts off the opportunity to have the kid and Roland bond and Roland reluctantly taking on a father figure role. That would be one more level and The Dark Tower can barely juggle the 1 level it has.
Boiled down to the most basic screenwriting beats and rebuilt entirely out of cliches, The Dark Tower is a dull slog. It’s a summer of Stephen King with a The Mist TV series and a remake of It coming soon, so now was the time to get this film out, but with such an anemic story isn’t enough to build a Dark Tower-verse on any time soon.