Film adaptations of Stephen King’s novels can have one of three different outcomes: they are masterpieces (De Palma’s Carrie, Kubrick’s The Shining, Reiner’s Misery, Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption), they are nostalgic to some but not necessarily good (1990’s IT, Kasdan’s Dreamcatcher, Lambert’s Pet Sematary, Kiersch’s Children of the Corn), and others the complete garbage (King’s own Maximum Overdrive, William’s Cell, Garris’ Sleepwalkers). As you might notice, the quality is closely related to the directors themselves, since those in the first category are great and competent, and those in the latter are… something else. But one thing that should not be done is give an adaptation as big as The Dark Tower to a director who has never ventured into big-budget movies, even if he is “an uber fan” of the books.
Based on the sprawling eight-books saga of the same name (of which I have read none), The Dark Tower is a fantasy movie directed by Nikolaj Arcel, starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Taylor. It is a sequel to the books, and it is about a young boy who teams up with the gunslinger Roland to fight the evil Man in Black, who wants to destroy the Dark Tower, which protects different universes and realities from the Darkness. Now, this is just scratching the surface of the incredibly deep and long mythology of the series, but the film itself does not attempt to explain anything. Things happen just cause, and apparently even fans of the books are not happy with the final product, for it betrays what the whole novels were about.
While watching the film, I couldn’t stop thinking about the 2009 dark fantasy film Solomon Kane, based on the books by Robert E. Howard: both films are prequel/sequel to a series of books, both have different elements and backstories in order to appeal to a wider audience, and fans dislike the adaptations for not being 100% faithful. Yet, both of these movies have managed to make me intrigued in the universes that they were set in, so much so that I have read every short story about Solomon Kane ever since I first watched the movie, and now I really want to know more about the gunslinger Roland and his quest to get to the Dark Tower and fight evil.
The movie itself is a mixed bag, being neither particularly good nor terrible. It is a perfectly mediocre action-fantasy movie that takes too many aspects of this universe for granted, while simultaneously focusing not nearly enough on the mystical and magical elements of this world. The first and third act of the film take place in New York City, where nothing particularly interesting happens, and where the character of Roland can have the obligatory fish-out-of-water moments once he gets there (which I did find quite amusing, to be honest); the second act is in Mid-World, this semi-western land where there are supposedly many cool creatures and locations that you are not going to see, instead getting gorgeous landscapes, an action scene in an amusement park that is shot so darkly you can barely even see the silhouettes of the characters, and an action scene set in a generic small village of good-willed people that feels like a rejected set for one of the Hobbit movies.
The action and the cast are my highlights of the film. While the aforementioned amusement park scene is way too dark to understand what is happening on screen, the other couple of shootouts and action-y moments are handled pretty well, mostly thanks to the excellent gunslinging and reloading that Roland does: I could watch him throwing cylinders in the air and reloading his revolvers in slow-motion every day. The main character of the film is, unlike the books, the young Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor), and he actually is a pretty interesting character who has an arc and shows some emotions. Idris Elba brings his stoic cold-faced persona and charisma to the film, but his character is badass and serious just for the sake of it, and he barely shows any other feelings during the runtime, even if he has good chemistry with Taylor. McConaughey delivers his usual scenery-chewing chill performance that we have come to expect from him, and this attitude and direction make him a pathetic villain that you never find to be a real threat. His henchmen look rather generic, resembling the atrocious villains from Suicide Squad.
Technically, the movie is (you guessed it) pretty average. The shots of wild vistas filmed in South Africa are pretty, the action is easy to follow, but there is a lack of true stylistic vision in how the film is presented, similarly to most other movies by Sony. There is a good amount of practical effects, but when CGI is used it usually looks cheap and unpolished, especially during the final fight. The soundtrack by Junkie XL has some nice tracks that never stand out during the movie, and they follow the same patterns and themes of other fantasy films.
Overall, The Dark Tower features good action sequences that are few and far between. The story is rather conventional and moves way too fast with little time to breathe and get to know the characters and worlds. It makes me excited for the upcoming TV show and now I want to read the novels, but as a standalone film it is rather forgettable and mediocre.
Visual Effects: 6.5
Violence & Gore: 7.5
Sex & Nudity: 2
Drugs & Profanity: 3
Intensity & Horror: 4.5