It took 35 years, several directors, a gaggle of screenwriters, and countless rumored actors for a version of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” to make it to the big screen. After all these aborted efforts, false starts, and ambitious plans, the result is … this? This hurried, ho-hum wannabe-epic? What a shame.
Yes, 2017’s “The Dark Tower” is a jumbled affair at best. King’s story of the alternate-dimension battle between Roland (“The Gunslinger”) and Walter (“The Man in Black”) over the mythical Dark Tower is lazy, weak-bellied, and, at its worst, laughable.
Still, “The Dark Tower” is not the outright disaster many feared. It is a watchable summer blockbuster that evaporates quickly, and entertains occasionally. The “Tower” brain trust — director Nikolaj Arcel, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, producer Ron Howard — get a few things right, most importantly the casting of Idris Elba as Roland, a.k.a. the Gunslinger.
So much is wrong, though. The result is a film that plays too loose with the source material for die-hard fans but speeds along too quickly to grip those who’ve never read the eight-book series. Quite simply, “The Dark Tower” will please no one.
As millions of readers know well, the protagonist of King’s series is Roland, the last of a long line of Gunslingers sworn to protect the Dark Tower. If the aforementioned structure were to fall, it is said that extinction would follow. This is the goal of Walter, played with utter ridiculousness by Matthew McConaughey.
Essential to Walter’s plan is the use of the minds of children. And as he and Roland discover, one child in particular has the power to topple the Tower.
That child is 11-year-old Jake Chambers, played with appropriate earnestness by newcomer Tom Taylor. As the film opens, Jake is gripped by a series of visions showing the fall of the Dark Tower, as well as a mysterious black-suited villain and a hardened gunslinger.
These visions make Jake a source of ridicule to his schoolmates and stepfather. Eventually, his worried mother decides some time with doctors is the best option. It is here that Jake makes his move, and discovers how to enter the world from his nightmares.
He finds Roland, a man on a quest for revenge, and soon the duo is on the move. Meanwhile, Walter pursues Jake on Earth and beyond, culminating in a series of gunfights.
There are moments of great charm between Jake and Roland, specifically some delightful fish out of water scenes of the duo on Earth; Roland’s dialogue in the hospital and to some teenagers on the bus is hilarious, and delivered with deadpan perfection by Elba.
Much of the film, however, is unintentionally hilarious. Here, all roads lead to McConaughey. The “Dallas Buyer’s Club” Oscar-winner is at his best in roles that embrace his offbeat delivery and rogue-ish good looks — think of “Magic Mike” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
When McConaughey does not fit, a film derails. There is nothing scary or menacing about his Man in Black. The character is merely silly, and when McConaughey battles Elba, it’s neither exciting or memorable. It is dumb, dumb, dumb, and the surest sign yet that we've entered the Black Plague period of the McConaissance.
Elba’s performance is the opposite. He inhabits the role with ease, bringing a haunted quality to the man tasked with simultaneously protecting Jake and taking down the Man in Black.
It’s too bad a wonderful performance from Elba is wasted. The same is true of a few well-staged action sequences. But these good points are overwhelmed by lackluster production values and effects, choppy editing, and lazy scripting. The mystery and scope of King’s series is missing.
The minds behind the film adaptation of “The Dark Tower” apparently felt it was enough to make it to the finish line. For die-hard fans, the casually interested, and everyone else, it most certainly is not enough. That’s why “Tower” will go down as one of 2017’s most crushing disappointments.
"The Dark Tower”
2 stars (out of four)
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel. 95 minutes. Rated-13 PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.