As a total fucking nerd, I used to follow the rumors and stories of geek properties and comic book movies in development.
I still do, but I used to too.
Before the 2008 Iron Man/The Dark Knight swing that meant Hollywood found the money in taking all this shit seriously, it was pretty commonplace that while they wanted to adapt things with built-in audiences, a lot of this geek stuff was just a little too weird or expensive to treat the right way. You had to bust down the budgets (and what the audience would take at face value) and find some way to remove the most fantastical portions of it while keeping the name that people already knew.
So, that meant you often got the “They come to Earth” adaptation. It was a surprisingly popular genre at the time, some fantastic thing coming to Earth and teaching us all a new lesson, whether it was an angel or an alien or Gary Busey. So it made a sort of sense for these properties that took place on other worlds to pop on over to Earth and let the characters roam around in like…New York or something. Most infamously was an adaptation of Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece of comics, that mostly took place as a bad combination of Terminator 2 and every movie about the “Coming Millennium”
This is all context to get into my main point about a movie that doesn’t have one. The Dark Tower feels so much like those kind of adaptations, one that isn’t totally into its property and one that extracts so much of what’s loved to try to make it into a more marketable product. The kind of adaptation that was more common before we realized common audiences could get into geek shit and just feels out-dated now.
It doesn’t help that The Dark Tower is somehow dreadfully slow and has way too much going on, is slapped together like a reel of film falling down a stairs, is as cheap-looking as a feature film could possibly be, and has great actors struggling valiantly against the writing of Akiva Goldsman (coincidentally, often responsible for the kind of adaptations I railed against at the beginning).
Based on Stephen King’s epic dark fantasy tale, The Dark Tower takes the task of compressing his vast mythology down to roughly 90 minutes. Told through the eyes of Jake (Tom Taylor), a troubled young man who sees visions of another world, an evil man, and a valiant gunslinger. That world comes crashing into his reality as The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) hunts Jake down in order to harness his growing psychic power to destroy The Dark Tower and allow the monsters outside the universe through the barrier. The only man who may be able to stop him is Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), a broken man seeking only to take his revenge on The Man in Black.
This doesn’t even break the surface of what’s going on here, as the movie is trying to cram even more detail from these books in an incredibly small amount of time while still trying to move forward under its own momentum, create an actual watchable stand-alone film. There’s too many cooks in this kitchen, and that’s the beginning of the problem.
Side note: In fact, there’s so many cooks I don’t know who to blame. I could blame the director Nikolaj Arcel, but he is 100% the kind of dude they brought on to give a chance if he succeeded and blame if he failed. This movie reeks of studio interference through and through, a bad adaptation made worse.
I have never been more bored by a film that’s trying everything it can to keep the pace up. A ton of stuff happens and yet it’s all so low-energy. There’s no sense of wonder, no sense of how cool all of this is.
Because it is cool! Elba is a badass playing a dude who does gunplay like nobody’s business fighting an evil sorcerer in a post-apocalyptic wasteland for the fate of the universe against Lovecraftian evil. Yet The Dark Tower is either enamored with the much more ground-level story of Jake (thinking we need him as the audience surrogate) or completely disinterested in conveying the actual scale and scope of The Dark Tower story in front of it.
Of course, it doesn’t help that this film adaptation would hardly be equipped to do that. The fingerprints of too many hands are all over this film, cut to ribbons and overexplained within an inch of its life. Bad ADR and scenes spliced in make The Dark Tower a jarring experience to watch.
It’s also a surprisingly cheap looking movie. Action scenes are almost entirely staged in the dust or the dark, the monsters are in shadows or avoid the use of prosthetics, and there are roughly 5 locations, all shot very flat.
And a strong cast could have possibly saved this and should have considering who was on deck. Yet Idris Elba is pretty much the only one worth a damn, owing to his intense charisma, the kind of star performance that’s trying to keep things afloat.
Nobody else is given the time or the performance space to do anything. Performers like Jackie Earle Haley, Abbey Lee, and Kathryn Winnick basically pop in and disappear almost instantly. Anyone who isn’t them is giving a performance that I would suggest just not mentioning on their resume.
That includes Matthew McConaughey who is chewing the scenery in a way that is not fun enough to overcome how completely out of step he is with the rest of the movie. A few corny jokes aside, McConaughey is vamping in a way that just makes you feel kind of embarrassed for the Academy Award-winning actor. The Man in Black is an evil character with a goofy side, but McConaughey is more showboat than cackling. There’s also two moments that made me stifle long giggles in the theater (one where they find him cooking chicken, the other involves the use of the word “magicks”), which is not great for your big villain.
The Dark Tower is just an absolute swing and a miss. You see what could work here, but none of it does.