It’s been a couple decades since I read The Dark Tower but I chose not to re-read it before seeing the movie. Big mistake!
Like City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments, The Dark Tower is more a collection of key moments from the book (as I recall it) and absolutely none of the connective tissue – like plot, explanations (of anything – not just how the Man in Black’s magicks work – let alone why Roland is immune to them).
Unlike City of Bones, The Dark Tower is not cast spectacularly right (Idris Elba and Tom Taylor aside) – or maybe it is and they were just directed into not being right onscreen. Matthew McConaughey, in particular, could not be less suited to playing Walter/The Man in Black. He comes across as a faintly malignant surfer in a duster – who can (and does) kill people by just saying, ‘Stop breathing.’
The movie opens with children at play until they are interrupted by a horn – following which they are taken into a massive, oddly shaped building and some of them are attached to a machine at its center. The machine switched on and they scream – while a burst of energy soars into the sky and strikes an even larger tower. Each time the tower is assaulted, there are earthquakes in this world.
Roland (Elba) is the last Gunfighter – the line that protected the Dark Tower from falling and allowing evil and chaos to swarm the universe. Which, of course, is exactly what Walter wants.
Jake is a kid who lives with his mom, Laurie (Katherine Winnick, Bones, Vikings), and her boyfriend. He has bad dreams – always of the same world and the same people – and draws pictures of them endlessly.
When another kid at school grabs his book of drawings, Jake punches him out and the next thing you know, he’s been signed up for a ‘psycho-camp’ as his only friend, Lucas (Nicholas Hamilton, Captain Fantastic) – and when his ride arrives, he recognizes them as being ‘seam men’ (non-humans wearing artificially attached human faces).
He flees – and thanks to some research he’d done previously, he escapes to Roland’s world, Midworld, where he meets a seemingly uncaring Roland.
From there, the movie follows Jake and Roland on a series of adventures that culminate in a resolution that makes no sense – other than that they form a kind of chase between Walter and Roland and Jake.
There are no nuances; no attempt to frame the material in a way that makes it accessible to people who haven’t read the book; and that flawed casting that makes the villain of the piece nothing more than ticked off surfer in a duster.
The Dark Tower moves a little too quickly – as if hoping that its audience will be dazzled by the pacing enough to ignore the lack of anything resembling an actual story.
If not for Elba’s presence (and seeming ability to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear) and his chemistry with Taylor, The Dark Tower would be an utter failure. The movie, for everyone else in the cast, a paycheck.
At 95 minutes, The Dark Tower is, mercifully, brief – though another 30-45 minutes of connective tissue might well have been able to raise it to a level of competence, at least.
Final Grade: D