My understanding is that this film is not a straight adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” book series, but rather a sort of sequel that cherry-picks elements of the anthology. I’m convinced the film was conceived as a writing exercise by at least one of its four credited screenwriters who wanted to tell the story of how a cowboy with a revolver could defeat a demon with one of the greatest arsenals of powers ever created. Now we have to suffer the results of that fan fiction gone wrong.
Idris Elba stars as Roland Deschain, the last of an order known as Gunslingers. The Gunslingers’ job is to protect a universe called Mid-World from any demons or monsters that may want to invade. The rest of the Gunslingers have been effortlessly wiped out by a demon called Walter o’Dim (Matthew McConaughey). Walter’s motivation seems to go no deeper than a desire to kill absolutely everybody in existence. He can kill anyone he wants, anytime he wants, without consequence, just by hypnotizing them with commands like “Burn” or “Stop Breathing.” Roland is immune to the hypnosis, but he’s still vulnerable to Walter’s other powers like telekinesis, so he lives a life of shame in exile.
Roland is brought out of retirement by Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy from Earth who has psychic powers that may give him an edge in a battle against Walter. The power is called “The Shine,” because if it was called “The Shining,” that would be lazy. Jake has to be careful, because if Walter captures him, he can harness the power of The Shine to destroy The Dark Tower, a structure that protects every universe. In other words, Walter finds it inefficient to kill everybody individually, so he’s looking for a way to kill everybody in every universe at once.
The plot is filled with a cluster of elements that I assume are taken from the book, but never given time to develop. At one point, Jake is nearly eaten by a living house with floorboards for teeth. Why doesn’t the very existence of this creature turn Jake’s world upside down? He should want to know what these things are, why they exist, how to beat them, and probably suffer from a lifetime case of domatophobia in the process. But no, he escapes through a magical portal and it’s on to the next adventure in less than a minute. Dozens of potentially rich details like these are glossed over in an effort to hurry toward the showdown at the finale. It doesn’t help that the film clearly doesn’t have the budget to explore these elements. The special effects in the living house sequence are so bad I can only describe them as animation.
But my biggest problem with the movie is the utter one-sidedness of the central conflict. Roland is bringing a gun to a telekinesis fight. Walter can travel between universes with ease, isn’t being kept at bay by anybody, and has a tracker on our heroes, not to mention a litany of deadly superpowers. Yet he keeps sending incompetent henchmen to do his work. Yes, his mind control won’t work on Roland and he needs Jake alive, but there’s no reason why those minor inconveniences should prevent him from ending things early. Except of course that it would mean we wouldn’t get a grand showdown at the end where he has only himself to blame if he loses.
“The Dark Tower” isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen all year. Elba gives an earnest performance as always, and it’s fun to watch McConaughey chew the scenery. But there’s nothing special about this movie other than its especially poor storytelling. Fans of the books are sure to be outraged that so much is abridged, and I seriously doubt that any new fans are going to won over with this hacky adaptation.