Over the course of his prolific pop-literary career, Stephen King has published eight novels under the heading of The Dark Tower series. The series is a dense genre-bending tale of The Gunslinger, brimming with a desolate Western vibe and fantasy tropes.
The Dark Tower, the long-awaited film adaptation being helmed here by Nikolaj Arcel, is 95 minutes long. It merely skims over that Western vibe to focus on the six shooters and the giant lasers.
You might already see the problem here.
Idris Elba plays The Gunslinger, and, given his character is shrunken to nothing more than a stoic gunman with a chip on his shoulder, he plays it with his usual gritty charm.
The Gunslinger plays second fiddle to Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a child with “the shine” (one might recall Danny Torrence) who is being tracked by the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). The Man in Black requires the bright shiny souls of children to topple the Dark Tower, a obelisk that seemingly prevents the darkness from taking over this already bleak world.
If one were to disregard that the film distills an epic mythology into a brief runtime, The Dark Tower still reeks of rushed production. That it never feels like the Dark Tower falling really means anything to the world of the film is a good starting point in this conversation.
The stakes of the film rely solely in Jake. The boy’s character is not problematic. At times, it is a compelling storyline. But Jake is not part of the universe at large, not at first at least.
This sector of the film, which takes place in the post-apocalyptic wasteland Mid-World, is jumbled and rushed. It is a flat world—largely captured with blown out white backdrops so there is literally less depth—only setup at all so that climactic shootouts can take place there.
These shootouts are fine, sometimes inviting in their energy and visual tact, but they are taking place in this stagnant world. It is hard to understand the stakes of the Man in Black’s reign, let alone feel sympathy for those terrorized by it.
With this fleeting narrative taking place on a flattened landscape, it is hard to become invested in the adaptation. Cracks in McConaughey’s stony performance don’t help, and the CG artifacts surrounding his role feel childish in a Summer that boasts War for the Planet of the Apes.
The Dark Tower feels like a film that never truly starts. It sets up a strong young protagonist, hints potential at a fascinating mentor figure, and then tosses bullets around empty backdrops for an hour. What is missing is inspiration. Uninspired: the setting, the score, the story, and the climax.
The Dark Tower: C-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)