The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower may not be the best Stephen King adaptation, but it's a worthwhile summer blockbuster with a sci-fi twist and an eye for world-building. Also, Idris Elba's Gunslinger is a character that we absolutely need to see more of.
Nikolaj Arcel‘s The Dark Tower might just be one of the most hyped Stephen King adaptations to finally hit the screen. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey star in one of the summer’s most misunderstood and under-rated films without a doubt, providing us with a nice little cap to an otherwise disappointing three months of over-cooked blockbusters.
The Dark Tower follows a young kid named Jake (Tom Taylor) as his dreams and visions become reality, exposing him to another world that involves a dark tower that sits in the center of the universe, protecting all life from complete destruction.
Balancing that chaos and peace is the war between the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), an evil sorcerer hell bent on destroying the tower and unearthing demons across the universe, and the Gunslinger’s, more specifically the last Gunslinger, named Roland (Idris Elba). Roland has sworn to protect the tower from all evil and personally seeks revenge after having lost his father and friends to the treacherous ways of the Man in Black.
Jake fits into the puzzle by possessing enough telekinetic energy to be forcefully channeled to finally bring down the tower for the Man in Black, while also holding the ability to fight back and save not just Earth, but the entire universe.
I must start my review of The Dark Tower by stating that I have not read any of the Stephen King novels that this film is based on. Walking in with a fresh set of eyes has without a doubt given me an advantage over the die-hard fans that have been claiming this film to be a complete and utter disappointment.
I’m here to tell you that as a standalone film, The Dark Tower is freaking awesome. It presents world-building in a way that’s unique and exciting, skipping the over-cooked intros for a quick summary and then dropping you right into the thick of it.
The Dark Tower may wink and nod at fans of the books, but it trusts newcomers to pick up on the lingo and the worldly traits and just roll with it in exchange for an adventure that’s rocking a healthy dose of action and thrills.
Director Nikolaj Arcel keeps the film’s colors limited, with a mostly washed over gray palette that doesn’t exactly do the film any visual favors, but does instill the dead and lifeless display of the tower as it repetitively gets hit and damaged by the Man in Black. The worlds that have been destroyed by his hand are presented with an appropriately lifeless look, while Earth remains colorful and lively.
The film’s ability to blend worlds without endless backstory is impressive. It’s one of the film’s stronger moments, yet it’s also one of the film’s crutches. It’s strong, because it wastes very little time diving into the story and giving audiences a fun summer blockbuster that isn’t afraid to be a little weird and creative.
It’s a crutch because at times, The Dark Tower feels like a tease at a much larger world. It feels incomplete at times and makes me hope and pray that a sequel gets ordered and quickly.
The film’s performances are also hit or miss. Matthew McConaughey plays the Man in Black with too broad of strokes and much more restraint than one might expect or want. This seems like a role that he would go over-the-top and ham it up with, yet he’s mostly straight-faced and occasionally wooden. There are a few cringe-worthy lines, but his performance mostly ascents the film in a manner that matches his performance with the tone of the film.
Idris Elba‘s Gunslinger is the walking definition of other-worldly bad ass. He’s channeling his inner-Western traits as a drifter that’s soft-spoken, yet hard-hitting. His purpose is clearly defined and he range nails just about all of the emotions necessary to give his character a full circle conclusion by the end of the film. Some may accuse this film of wasting Elba’s talents, while I would compliment the film for finally giving him a potential franchise role.
I sure hope it works out, because Elba is immensely talented and The Dark Tower just barely chips away at what he could possibly unlock with further films.
Tom Taylor is surprisingly alright as the young boy torn between multiple worlds. He’s never whiny or annoying and mostly helpful and understandably confused as he witnesses his own share of loss and sacrifice, before finally settling down into a character, that again better come back for future installments.
The script might leave a little too much “up in the air”, but it mostly benefits the film’s brisk running time. Generally, book 1 of however ends up getting turned into a bulky three-hour film, yet The Dark Tower moves quickly and covers most of the ground just fine. It could benefit from an extended cut on home video, but it’s not extremely necessary.
Fans wishing for more content or the complete and faithful adaptation might find disappointment in The Dark Tower, but I can assure you that those unfamiliar with the source material will probably enjoy The Dark Tower far more than the trailers suggest.
For what it’s worth — The Dark Tower is one of the biggest surprises of the summer. It’s a high concept sci-fi film that blends action and character drama in a way that feels fresh and exotic, among a summer full of tentpole sequels.
It primes you for more and I sure hope that we get to see a follow up.