Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower series is beloved by nerds everywhere for it’s insane and complex blending of sci-fi, fantasy and action but the long in development movie version strips all of that complexity and depth down to the bone for a pretty mediocre fantasy action movie.
Idris Elba plays Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger on the alternate world of Mid-World. He’s been engaged in battle with the evil sorcerer Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey) for years looking for vengeance while Walter seeks to destroy The Dark Tower, the center of all the alternate universes, and unleash a demonic horde upon every world, including our Earth. On Earth, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having visions of all of this and becomes the target of Walter’s minions because he may have enough psychic energy to destroy the tower. In a number of reviews, the point was made that I completely agree with that The Dark Tower suffers the complete opposite issue from the recent Hobbit trilogy. There, Peter Jackson stretched one fairly short book in to three epic length movies that were jammed full of filler and sideplots. In The Dark Tower, eight massive books have been condensed down into one extremely simplistic and bland action movie but it will probably still be incomprehensible to a good chunk of the audience that sees it, as there’s really only a cursory explanation of everything that is going on and there’s a lot of creatures and concepts that just show up with basically no explanation. Also, there’s a sky beam that threatens to destroy the world, so that should really tell you all you need to know about how creative this movie is.
Idris Elba almost makes everything work and is easily the best thing about the movie. He has an awesome stoic and bad ass sense to him and makes even the dumbest expository dialogue work and he’s believably awesome during the gun fights that break out fairly late in the movie (it’s probably about at least 45 minutes of a 90 minute movie until a big action scene breaks out). Tom Taylor makes a solid companion to Elba and they develop a pretty effective bond as the movie goes on. McConaughey on the other hand is off devouring scenery as Walter and I can’t decide if it’s great or terrible. He’s less threatening and more of a douchebag and seems like he’s taking cues from Killgrave on Jessica Jones, where his go to is just to suggest things to people like “Stop Breathing” and he just has this overall asshole vibe and he’s seemingly into destroying the universe just because he’s bored. He also basically has a Bond villainesque lair that is not in any of the books.
As far as action and spectacle goes, there a couple good sequences with Roland using his gunslinging abilities, including superhuman reloading abilities and, eventually, blocking bullets with his revolvers which is kind of cool but also seemingly magical in a way Roland is not. Mid-World is also not that interesting to look at, as it’s mostly just desert with some scattered remnants of a world like our own that existed in ancient times there and it’s actually more fun when Roland and Jake are back in NYC and there’s a brief bit of fish out water comedy as Roland sees things like soda and TV for the first time. One of the things that was hyped up was all the Stephen King easter eggs and besides an abandoned theme park that seemingly featured Pennywise, they are all kind of dumb (there’s a mother and son walking a St. Bernard or someone playing with a car that looks like Christine).
I’ve only read the first two Dark Tower books so far but even I feel that this movie doesn’t live up to any of the potential of any of the books, let alone the entire series. There’s so many cool concepts and complexity going on in the novels but the movie strips all of that to the bone for a generic “supervillain wanting to destroy the world” plot. Idris Elba is great as always and hopefully he gets an action movie franchise that lives up to his skills but this one is not it. If you’re really curious, go check out the first Dark Tower book, The Gunslinger, instead.