Starting the Stephen King film season off this year is The Dark Tower, the story of a gunslinger and a man in black and their eternal game of cat and mouse. Starring Idris Elba as Roland Deschain the legendary gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as ‘The Man in Black’ aka Walter Padick The Dark Tower is one of the most celebrated works of Stephen King and has spanned eight books and multiple comic books over the course of several decades. Now we’re in 2017, and The Dark Tower has become a film and possibly a television series, how does it fare?
The Dark Tower opens with young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) suffering from nightmares of a ‘Man in Black’ hurting children hoping to bring down a “dark tower”. Jake also begins to have dreams about a gunslinger who battles this figure across this other realm called “Mid-World”. He believes that these dreams are real, unfortunately, everyone around him believes he is crazy. This includes his mom and stepdad who try and send him to a special hospital to help with the dreams and when the people who come for him turn out to be minions of the ‘Man in Black’ Jake runs away to a house in New York which is also from his dreams. When he enters the house he finds a portal and jumps through discovering the world he dreamt of and after a short time comes across the Roland Deschain the gunslinger. After grilling the youngster about where he comes from Roland realises that he can use Jake to find Walter and end this long and bitter battle.
I’ll start with the positives because sadly they are in the minority. The three leads, Elba, Taylor, and McConaughey, are great in their roles. Especially Taylor who is a newcomer but gives a commendable performance, he has several emotionally weighty scenes, and I enjoyed each of them. There is a particular scene with him and Roland discussing the code of the gunslinger which is suitably potent. On the topic of Roland the legendary gunslinger, Elba plays him with a gruff charm, a man weighed down by all that he has lost. Unfortunately, we don’t get much more motivation than he wants to kill Walter because Walter killed his father and this is something that if it had been explored by a more nuanced director could have been far more compelling. With McConaughey’s Walter, he sways into every room with a sense of brutal flamboyancy, and it’s a surprisingly enjoyable feeling to understand that when this character enters a room there will be death and this is a fascinating element.
Now I will speak on the issues of The Dark Tower, of which there are many. There is the run time of the film which clocks in at a paltry 95 minutes not allowing the audience to feel fully immersed in either the story of the movie or the fantasy realm known as Mid-World. Also, The Dark Tower falls prey to an issue most cartoon adaptations fall into: Our heroes aren’t in the fantasy world for the majority of the film, they’re in modern day New York which is a terrible idea especially if you are a fan of the book series because the story of The Dark Tower is primarily set in Mid-World.
The main issue I found was that The Dark Tower doesn’t embrace its strangeness enough. Mid-World looks stunningly bleak but sadly the lack of quality in cinematography diminishes the wonder, Mid-World’s uniqueness is ripped away as it looks like a mishmash between the worlds of The Divergent series and The Maze Runner series. There is so much potential teased with the tower, the demons outside the universe, the crimson king, and so much more but it’s all ruined by an all too neat ending. The best description I was told of The Dark Tower was that it was if the property was bought by Disney and was defanged for a throwaway fantasy film that we see every few years.
Ultimately there are two questions going into The Dark Tower: How is it as a film and how is it as an adaptation? In both regards sadly The Dark Tower is nothing special and is a poorly executed adaptation of what is a much-beloved book series. Hopefully, when Stephen King’s next film adaptation IT comes in September we’ll be talking more positively about the author’s works.