While The Dark Tower gets some points for its solid visuals, it lacks the scope, tone, and depth of its source material, leaving the film to flounder under the weight of its own misguided narrative.
Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) is the last Gunslinger in Midworld, a parallel version of our Earth. Locked in a seemingly unending conflict with the mysterious sorcerer Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), sometimes known as the Man in Black, Roland seeks revenge for the death of his father – no matter the cost. But when a young boy named Jake is carried to Midworld from our world, Roland must make a seemingly impossible decision: continue on his solitary quest for vengeance for which he has sacrificed so much, or rely on the aid of others to prevent the toppling of the Dark Tower and save the universe.
Like many of the other novel to film adaptations, The Dark Tower has a steep hill to climb to tell a compelling story. The series, written by the prolific Stephen King, spans eight novels, an ongoing comic book series, and contains numerous direct tie-ins to other novels King has written (including The Stand, Salem’s Lot, Hearts in Atlantis, and It) – which is, to say the least, quite a lot of source material.
Despite that, the film itself is less of a retelling of the series, and more of a continuation of Roland’s story as he continues yet another cycle of his battle with The Man in Black. While this could have served as a way for the film to make its own way, drawing from this incredibly developed, richly populated world – the film seems to do little more than provide a brief nod to King’s world-building. Instead, the film relies on generalizations of characters, motivations, and storylines to create something that feels more like a brief “back of the book” overview of The Dark Tower, rather than a complete film.
Much of the time, to be perfectly honest, it feels as though the filmmakers had only read the Wikipedia overview of the series, fixating on one or two characters, a few concepts, and a vague narrative direction. We never really understand enough about the characters to become attached, nor do we get more than the briefest looks at their motivations, leaving some of their decisions a bit confusing as they progress through the story.
The visual aesthetic is where The Dark Tower shines (if you’ll pardon the pun), with solidly-used CGI and the heavy use of practical effects, the film at least looks like it knows what it wants to be.
All this aside, The Dark Tower is not without its charm, and fans of King’s other novels and films will have a great deal of fun picking out all of the Easter eggs hidden throughout, but for most filmgoers – that probably won’t be enough to justify the cost of admission.
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action
Directed By: Nikolaj Arcel
Written By: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Stephen King
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Claudia Kim, Dennis Haysbert
Runtime: 1h 35min
Release Date: August 4 2017 (US)