Based on a lengthy and intricate series of Stephen King novels, The Dark Tower is a movie that attempts to distill the plot points of roughly seven different books into a single 95-minute film. Much of the buzz leading up to the film’s release has been around whether or not it can succeed in this effort. As someone who has never read the books I cannot speak to whether or not it does justice to its source material. The little I have heard from fans of the book does not seem positive towards the movie. However, as someone who is not already invested in this world I found quite a bit to enjoy.
The Dark Tower introduces us to the character of Jake Chambers, a preteen in New York City being raised by his mother and stepfather following the death of his father in a fire. A series of earthquakes has been hitting major cities like New York and Jake believes they are related to visions he has been having in his dreams. In these dreams a dark man has been launching attacks against a large dark tower and the aftershocks are shaking the world. In addition, Jake dreams of skin changers, beings that can change their appearance to look like anyone. Concerned by Jake’s erratic behavior and delusions, his mother wants to send him to a clinic upstate that specializes in treating problem children. Jake reluctantly agrees until the representatives from the clinic arrive and he sees they bear the tell tale signs of the skin changers from his dreams!
What I really enjoyed about this movie was the world building along with the sense of imagination let-loose. It reminded me a bit of a David Tennant or Matt Smith Doctor Who episode. This story was less tongue-in-cheek, as the Doctor can be, but it had some similar qualities of adventuring through time and space, encountering exotic alien worlds, and being on the run from terrifying monsters. I liked the mythology of a dark tower at the center of the universe, being guarded by powerful gunslingers trying to fend off hordes of invading monsters. I liked the myriads of worlds that could intersect with this reality, and could see how this would make for an interesting series of both movies and television shows. I also enjoyed Idris Elba’s performance as the Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey plays a truly fearsome villain.
I thought the film had a tight sense of pacing for about the first hour. However, by the last third or so it became apparent that it was rushing to pack a lot of material in to a short amount of time. Some of the interactions between Jake and the Gunslinger felt underdeveloped and the action scenes began to overwhelm the narrative. The thing that I found most disappointing, however, is that it wrapped itself up all so neatly in the end. I had felt like I was stepping in to the first chapter of what was going to become an epic journey, and then 90 minutes later it was all over. Obviously there is plenty of story left that can be told, based on studio notions of a series of movies with interconnecting television shows, but this particular story felt like it could have been a series unto itself. I was shocked to find it come to such a complete conclusion in one short movie.
In all, I still enjoyed The Dark Tower. It was one of the more original genre films I’ve seen this year, and I liked that it was something genuinely fun and imaginative. I enjoyed the world it created as well as the people and monsters populating that world. I liked the interactions of the lead characters, and enjoyed the performances. I only wish the ending hadn’t felt rushed and that there had been more time allowed to explore this story over a series of films.
Rating: 3.5 stars
There are other worlds than these. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, the ambitious and expansive story from one of the world’s most celebrated authors, makes its launch to the big screen. The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee and Jackie Earle Haley
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel