For ten years a movie adaptation of Stephen King’s wildly popular “Dark Tower” series of novels has been in the works. An impressive carousel of big names have been linked to the project – directors J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard; actors Javier Bardem, Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, and Viggo Mortensen. But script issues and studio apprehension kept the project on the shelf.
That was until struggling Sony Pictures greenlit the project. More script rewrites were done (rarely a good sign) and Nikolaj Arcel was handed the directing reins. Things looked up with the casting of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. As it turns out “The Dark Tower” needed a lot more than star power to make it worth the wait.
As someone who hasn’t read the novels I expected there to be a lot I wouldn’t get. Turns out I was right. The screenwriting team attempts to make sense of things for know-nothings like me, but their efforts range from clunky to nonsensical. For what it’s worth we get some (not all that interesting) exposition which explains things a bit. Other times we get transitions and gaps that make no sense whatsoever. But in retrospect I’m not sure understanding this particular story would cure its ills.
From what I can understand the film is intended to be a direct sequel to the novels. It spans two ‘worlds’ – ours, which is mainly depicted by modern day New York, and Mid-World, a sci-fi Wild West-like parallel universe. It’s there that we meet a Gunslinger named Roland (Elba), the villainous Man in Black (McConaughey), and the mysterious Dark Tower – a structure set in the center of the universe that could end both worlds if destroyed. Elba is the protector, McConaughey wants to destroy it, and so on.
In New York a young boy (Tom Taylor) has visions of Mid-World and the looming threat of the tower’s destruction. He’s chased by monsters working for the Man in Black until he finds a portal to Mid-World where he meets up with Roland. He shares his visions and the two try to foil the Man in Black’s plans.
The film is rich with all sorts of goofy concoctions. There are creatures with fake human skin masquerading as New Yorkers. There is a massive weapon powered by psychic children. I could go on. That kind of silliness could be a bit more digestible if the movie didn’t take it all so seriously. Sure, there are a handful of attempts at humor, but not enough to overtake the serious tone. It doesn’t make this unwatchable, but it consistently fed my feeelings of disappointment.
There are moments of McConaughey doing McConaughey which can be kind of amusing, but ultimately he seems miscast. It doesn’t help that his character is nothing short of dreadful. Elba is good with what little he’s given and you could say he is a reminder of the potential this film had. I would like to see him again in this role with a substantially smarter, less convoluted story and more focused direction. I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking. I can’t imagine another movie in this planned franchise seeing the light of day.
VERDICT – 2 STARS