‘The Dark Tower’ condenses complex source material into forgettable action flick

Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black square off in "The Dark Tower"
Ilze Kitshoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment/Courtesy
"The Dark Tower" | Sony Pictures Entertainment

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Grade: 2.0 / 5.0 

Advertised as a “continuation” to an eight-book epic fantasy series with a runtime of just over 90 minutes, it almost seems like “The Dark Tower” was meant to fail. Yet while fantasy adaptations usually fall victim to overly convoluted and fast-paced plots, “The Dark Tower” somehow still manages to be boring.

The film doesn’t quite deserve the label “atrocious,” but at best it is a disappointment that, for newcomers, blends in with every other uninspired action movie, and for fans of the series, butchers Stephen King’s careful world-building into a lackluster cliche.

Director Nikolaj Arcel’s “The Dark Tower” centers on a young boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who finds himself vividly dreaming about other people in other worlds — specifically the Gunslinger/Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and his archenemy, the mysterious Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey).

In contrast to the book series, which is centered on Roland, the movie shoves Jake to the forefront. The first third of the movie plays out like a mediocre drama, as Jake assumes the role of the misunderstood child harboring immense powers the adults around him cannot understand. Yet when Jake finally finds his way into the Mid-World and becomes entangled in Roland’s eternal quest to find the Man in Black, the storyline doesn’t become all the more engaging. On the contrary, we’re only left with more plot holes.

Characters often allude to some of the mythology and backstory explored in the book series references to the Crimson King are written on walls, a townsperson mentions the fall of Gilead, and Jake and Roland fight multiple creatures in the forest. Yet these details are never expanded upon or revisited, failing to advance or enrich the plot in any meaningful way. They instead only serve to confuse audiences — for instance, we hear the “Man in Black” referred to by at least three different names with neither reason nor explanation.

Despite this, both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are actually rather convincing leads, each fully embodying their character’s personas — Elba as the fallen hero, McConaughey as the stoic villain. It’s the lack of stimulating dialogue and character-building that ensures that the audience is not particularly invested in either as individuals.

With the heroes already failing to garner any interest from the audience, the side characters certainly fare no better. Jake’s tumultuous relationship with his family is horribly cliched, and we are given no background at all on who (or what) the creatures working with the Man in Black are. As the film progresses, any desire to know more about these characters is forgotten amidst their unconvincing and trite dialogue.

The film is plagued by melodramatic slow-motion shots set to an overly saccharine soundtrack accompanying entirely unrealistic action sequences. It might be satisfying the first time to watch the Gunslinger take the bad guys out with a poised ease, but by the next few fights, it’s simply boring. Neither the Gunslinger nor the Man in Black struggle much until their final encounter, which, much like the rest of the film, manages to be anticlimactic.

As the protagonists travel through the worlds of the film, Arcel attempts to inject some Marvel-esque humor — such as Roland discovering Coca-Cola, or his surprise at the abundance of bullets on Earth — that, unfortunately, ends up falling flat. At best garnering a few cringey laughs, the jokes feel out of place in the larger narrative, breaking the illusion and immersion in an already minimally characterized world.

As a standalone movie, “The Dark Tower” is essentially a conglomeration of half-baked action sequences with a slow, shaky plot that never progresses past a simple manhunt centered around a tower. Abandoning much of the key lore of the books, the film oversimplifies the story into one of predictability, becoming yet another dull book-to-screen adaptation set to join the ranks of “Dune” and “Eragon.”

Contact Lynn Zhou at [email protected].