Stephen King’s epic series of novels has finally come to the big screen after a long period of stop and go. Idris Elba stars as Roland Deschain aka The Gunslinger, the last in a line of “knights” from Midworld. Matthew McConaughey is his main antagonist: The Man in Black aka Walter Padick, a sorcerer who wishes to destroy The Dark Tower to seemingly unleash Hell upon the universe. The two have been going at one another for years but are finally brought together again by an 11 year old boy, Jake Chambers, whose ability to “shine” is crucial to The Man in Black’s plan.
I’ve only read about three and a half of the books that consist of the eight Dark Tower books. I’m also aware that almost all of Stephen King’s stories (books, novellas, short stories) are all linked and through The Dark Tower itself. I did not expect this movie to go into any of that due to licensing issues. But what did I get? Well it was not bad but it really wasn’t good either. The best way to describe the movie was thin. At a little over 90 minutes, the movie felt like it should have been at least 15 minutes longer.
First and foremost, the performances are good. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are top notch actors and do the best with what they were given. The only problem is that their characters are two dimensional with hints at something more. Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers is a little hard to gauge but that is always kind of the problem with child actors. He certainly did not give a bad performance and he was never annoying but it always felt like something was off. The rest of the supporting cast with Claudia Kim, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert and others are fine but they are given even less depth than the main characters.
The biggest problem with the movie seems to be editing. You can tell that the movie has been cut in many different ways. Sometimes characters finish conversations that never even started on screen. The editing is also off when characters just seemingly show up at places with no set up. Even with the editing issues, the movie is not the mess that you might expect when you hear someone say that. It is a fairly linear story that moves at a good pace but as stated previously there should have been more to the movie.
The thinness of the movie hinders it in as much as we do really know who the characters are, why they are doing what they are doing, how they are able to do what they do and so on and so on. There are many opportunities for character developing moments and they probably were there but the film simply breezes over them. I was never expecting this movie to get as lofty and trippy as the source materials do. But I did want something more to get a sense of how this universe or multiverse works.
Nikolaj Arcel is the director and this is is his big budget film. The film actually has a modest budget for the type of film that it is. But as per usual when these types of movies, you get the sense that either the director did not get a real good grasp or the studio might have interfered. Honestly, I think it was a perfect storm of events. There have been talks about making the series a television series and this movie kind of proves that to be true. It seems really big and unwieldy for a feature film or even a series of feature films.
Ultimately it seems that the film struggled to find its own identity. On one hand, it had to please hardcore fans and before obvious reshoots, it was supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the books. On the other hand, it is supposed to introduce a new audience to the rich mythology. It ultimately succeeds in doing none of those things. But it is not a failure of a movie. Just a mess of one.