Every morning, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) wakes up sweating after having horrible nightmares. The dreams are always about the same things: ruined worlds, a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a mysterious Gunslinger (Idris Elba), and an impossibly tall tower. His mother and therapist thinks they are merely echoes resulting from his father’s death, but Jake isn’t so sure. His suspicions are confirmed one day when creatures with fake faces attempt to kidnap him, and in his escape he finds a portal to another world. Soon, he realizes that the Gunslinger –Roland- and everything else he dreamed is real, and that he has an important part to play in protecting the Tower.
For those who don’t know, The Dark Tower is Steven King’s magnum opus- a sprawling series combining elements of high fantasy, Westerns, horror, and a heaping dose of post-modern weirdness on top. It’s quite different from all of his other works, and fans have long considered the series to be unfilmable. I’m not convinced that’s the case, but what’s clear is that director Nikolaj Arcel and the group of screenwriters all bit off more than they could chew. The Dark Tower is not a horrible film- there is nothing about I particularly hated about it. But basically everything about it screams wasted potential.
For starters, we have the basic structure of the film. Although Jake was always a character in the novels, he was never the focus of the story, and I believe the film makers made a major error when deciding that he should be the lead in the film. It basically turned a sprawling literary epic into an average young-adult film. And while Tom Taylor’s acting is not bad, he simply isn’t strong enough to carry the film. Idris Elba, on the other hand, is excellent; his sheer presence should be enough to convince any fan that he was the right pick for the role. Matthew McConaughey, while also not bad, is again wasted potential. I was hoping he would be like an evil version of Rust Cohle from True Detective, but he ends up acting more like the generic wizard bad guy from numerous forgettable fantasy films and novels.
For a movie about a gunslinger, the action scenes in this movie were quite underwhelming. Although there is the occasional bright spot, like one scene where Roland shoots an attacker using solely is hearing to locate the target, but for most part the fact that he is the best shot in the universe is something which is stated rather than shown. Perhaps I have simply been spoiled in this post-John Wick world, but so much more could have been done with this, even keeping with the PG-13 rating. And most frustrating of all is the world of the film itself. There are so many intriguing bits of world-building which are briefly shown and then never mentioned again. There was so much potential to show a living, breathing, bizarre world (worlds actually) which was just not developed enough. Some of this can probably be explained by the film’s measly 95 minute run time, but certainly not all of it.
This is a film which is disappointing not because of what it is. This is a film which is disappointing because of what it’s not, and because of what it could be. In the hands of a more skilled creative team, who didn’t decide that it would be best to make a shallow young adult film out of probably the most bizarre Steven King work, this could have been a great movie. But it’s not. Instead, it’s the sort of movie that you might watch if you saw it while channel surfing or that might sit in your Netflix queue for a couple of months before you may or may not get around to watching it. I’m not sure if this film has forgotten the face of its father, but it sure as hell should call him once in a while.