Despite years of planning and an expansive fantasy source material, “The Dark Tower,” the newest sci-fi action western adapted from Stephen King’s novel series, is an incoherent, underwhelming, and simplistic mess of a film.
When young Jake Chambers begins having dreams of a far away world, mysterious creatures and a Dark Tower that protects the universe from evil, most people think he’s just crazy. When the very creatures from his dreams come to collect Jake from his home in New York City, he ventures out on his own looking for answers. He eventually teams up with the hero gunslinger from his dreams, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is seeking revenge on Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), aka The Man in Black, a powerful sorcerer hell-bent on bringing down the Dark Tower and unleashing darkness on the world.
I went into this film really wanting to like it. Even as someone who can usually find some good in the worst of movies, there’s not much I can praise here. The film’s expansive source material is very difficult to follow for anyone not familiar with the books. Even those who have read them say that the film is unfaithful and oversimplified. Stop-and-go, fast-paced action instead of additional backstory, too many generic clichés to count, weak dialogue and a disjointed narrative that’s just too confusing for most doesn’t make for even a mildly good film.
"The Dark Tower” combines multiple elements from several of King’s novels in the series, as well as stories of his like “The Shining” and “Doctor Sleep.” The material also takes inspiration from the Arthurian Legend, “The Lord of the Rings,” Spaghetti Westerns like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” character. King’s complex fiction comes with its own deep mythology, language, creatures, multi-universe and more. While the intention was to launch a massive film and TV franchise, the material seems to have a tough time translating onto the screen.
“The Dark Tower” project has been in development since 2007 and has gone through multiple director, studio, actor, and script changes to say the least. J.J. Abrams was first going to tackle the film with his “Lost” co-creators Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, but they ultimately decided it wasn’t for them. Next, Ron Howard took the reigns, with names like Javier Bardem, Viggo Mortensen, Russell Crowe, and Liam Neeson rumored to be attached. The film was then passed to Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel, with Howard staying on as a producer. After poor test screenings, Sony even considered moving on from Arcel but decided to let him clean up the music and narrative in an attempt to save the project.
In the end, it appears as if even some of the smartest minds in Hollywood couldn’t figure out a way to make this film work, and thus this final disaster was released. Some praise McConaughey and Elba’s performances and contend that parts of the film aren’t a total loss, but it seems like even the most diehard fantasy junkies and fans of the novels won’t find value in this film. King would love to see a sequel to the film at some point, and a potential TV series may still be in the works, but it won’t surprise me if it takes another ten years to get this story going again.
1.5 out of 5 stars.
“The Dark Tower” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.