Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
The saga of Stephen King seeing his book series The Dark Tower become a film/TV franchise is long and complex, one filled with studio changes, directors dropping out, stars coming and going, and years upon years upon years of waiting by dedicated fans. Now the first (and possibly last) film in The Dark Tower series is out, and audiences can look forward to a film that is completely and perfectly mediocre. Nothing great, nothing awful, just fine.
The story is rather simple and formulaic. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been having nightmares about another world, one where a Man in Black and Roland, a Gunslinger, are battling each other. He manages to find a portal to this world, where he encounters Roland and journeys with him to aid him in his battle against the Man in Black, who is kidnapping children in an attempt to find one that can help destroy The Dark Tower, a pillar at the center of the universe that keeps evil creatures outside its borders. Their quest takes them between Mid-World, the home of Roland, and Earth.
Nothing about the story is complex or difficult to follow. There are certainly moments where information is provided that doesn’t make sense, but that’s simply because it isn’t addressed in this film. Considering that the plan is to have multiple films, as well as a TV series and other potential avenues of storytelling, this makes total sense. All the answers can’t be given straight away as that would defeat the purpose of an extended cinematic universe.
All that being said, it feels almost insulting to King’s sprawling epic that this film is so easy to understand. There’s clearly a great deal of lore and mythology that could have been implemented here, and while I appreciate that much of it wasn’t explained in overblown exposition, I still find myself thinking that we were given a side salad versus a genuinely filling meal.
As far as characters go, Idris Elba is Roland Deschain. He commands the screen and fills it with intensity and charisma. Admittedly, his reloading tactics flat out defy the rules of logic and reality, but who cares? He looks badass doing it! Matthew McConaughey is sinister as the Man in Black. He carries himself with authority and exudes sinister intentions. At no point does anyone feel safe if he’s in the immediate vicinity. Plus, he has a strange sheen to him that makes him appear oddly inhuman. Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers offers a great performance in what can easily be thought of as a YA film that rests upon his shoulders.
From a technical perspective, something was up in terms of camera focus issues. There were times where my eyes were seemingly being directed to a point on the screen, but the camera wasn’t focused there. The weirdest instance of this was seeing a close-up of Roland’s face, but his facial features weren’t in focus. Rather, his ear was. Why do I want to focus on this man’s ear when he’s being so somber and focused in this moment?
Additionally, and hear me out here, I have a very strong suspicion that this film will not age well. Remember movies in the 90’s like No Escape or Stargate and how they have a specific look that dates them? I have a hunch that The Dark Tower will fall victim to that same issue in a decade or two.
Pacing issues make the first two acts drag while the third flies by at breakneck speeds, culminating in an ending that is entirely expected and yet still feels abrupt. For as much time that has been devoted to trying to make this film come to life, it really does feel like the bare minimum was given to this initial entry, which is a crying shame. This film should have caused interest in the property to skyrocket. Instead, it left this reviewer, who has only read the first book of the series some 15 years ago, disinterested in learning more. Perhaps that is its greatest offense.
At the end of the day, The Dark Tower is perfectly acceptable popcorn fare should you want to get out of the house for a couple of hours. You’ll get a contained story that may very well inspire you to seek out King’s novels. And if you know anything about the author’s works, you’ll notice a lot of winking nods to them as well as other film adaptations. But are those reasons enough to give The Dark Tower a pass as something memorable or spectacular? Not at all.
While I hope that future entries in this cinematic universe are more fascinating, I’d honestly be surprised if we ever get anything else. The Dark Tower may protect us against creatures beyond our own universe, but I don’t think it can stand tall long enough for a sequel.