The Dark Tower is based on a series of books that’s considered by some to be Stephen King’s crowning achievement. Director Nikolaj Arcel has several acclaimed projects to his credit, including the Oscar-nominated A Royal Affair. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are among the most charismatic actors in the business right now. With such promising source material and talent in spades, what could possibly go wrong? Well, this major motion picture comes from Sony… You know, the same company that botched Ghostbusters, botched Spider-Man twice, and most recently gave us The Emoji Movie. That probably should’ve been our first sign that The Dark Tower was going to suck.
Less than a week before its release, reports revealed that The Dark Tower was a production nightmare. The higher-ups apparently didn’t see eye to eye with Arcel’s vision. Test audiences weren’t ecstatic either after seeing an early cut of the film, resulting in costly reshoots. Sony even considered replacing Arcel with a more seasoned director, which is ironic seeing how Ron Howard was a producer here. Between the Han Solo spinoff and The Dark Tower, does Hollywood expect Howard to save every struggling picture?
The film follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy that’s been having nightmares about the mysterious Gunslinger (Elba), a devious Man in Black (McConaughey), and a Dark Tower. It turns out Jake’s dreams are real, as he’s transported to a realm known as Mid-World. Crossing paths with the Gunslinger, Jake learns that the Man in Black wants to destroy the Dark Tower, which will in turn destroy the universe. With an apocalypse looming, Jake teams up with the Gunslinger to take down the villainous sorcerer. I’d say that’s the cliff notes version of the story, but this entire movie plays out like a plot description on Wikipedia: rushed, straightforward, and emotionless.
Whether you’ve read King’s original books or not, the audience can sense that The Dark Tower has a rich lore and lots of fascinating ideas. At only 95 minutes, though, this film adaptation packs in far too much backstory and not nearly enough humanity. We’re barely given any time to connect with these characters, making it hard to get invested in this end of the world scenario. Numerous scenes feel incomplete, suggesting that this movie got the worst editing room treatment since Fan4stic. For a film that’s trying to be grand and epic, The Dark Tower doesn’t amount to anything more than a series of fantasy and young adult clichés.
What prevents the film from being a total waste is its capable cast. Tom Taylor gives a strong breakout performance and it’ll be interesting to see where his career goes from here. Elba is always cool and classy, although for a character known as the Gunslinger, he never does anything especially mind-blowing with his guns. McConaughey is clearly having a ball as the Man in Black, whispering every line like a spider crawling into your ear. As hard as these three try to salvage the film, however, they can’t overcome a dull script and unfocused direction.
On a technical level, The Dark Tower isn’t poorly produced per se. Of course it isn’t necessarily a well-produced movie either. Mid-World in particular is a very generic, bland land that borrows from Firefly, The Matrix, and everything in between. We don’t even get to see that much of the titular Dark Tower. In the end, we’re left with a missed opportunity that’s overstuffed, visually uninspired, and surprisingly soulless. Perhaps in the hands of different people, King’s novels could work better as an HBO or Netflix Original Series. As far as feature films go, though, let’s just hope that the It remake doesn’t drop the ball.