I haven’t covered a single original film this summer, but that’s hardly surprising at this point. Heck, every new release that I’ve covered has been a comic book adaptation. This week, though, I get to shake things up a bit – I’m covering a cinematic sequel to a Stephen King series. Going into the movie, I had in mind that it would be an adaptation of the Dark Tower books; I haven’t read them myself and so do not know if there is material for fans to recognize or if everything is fresh. I’ve since read online that it’s supposed to take place after the events of the books, or maybe it’s a sort of half-sequel/half-adaptation. Regardless, it’s another big box office bomb to add to an already-explosive summer.
The movie follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy who suffers from nightmares of a giant tower, a dangerous Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and a mysterious Gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba). We learn that the tower, which is located at the center of the universe and is the source of all things, is under attack from the Man in Black. This villain attacks it with the minds of psychically gifted children and personally sets out to bring in Jake for the great power the boy never knew he possessed.
The movie isn’t without merit. While some special effects were iffy, shots of the tower itself are impressive; one toward the end of the film that simply showed the structure peaking thousands of feet above the clouds made me want to pause the screening and just look at it. I also feel that the film is paced well enough, and even though it isn’t particularly long, I was surprised when the screen faded to black at the end. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are pretty interesting to watch. I enjoyed Elba as Jake’s reluctant father figure, and McConaughey’s character was fairly intimidating in a couple scenes. He obviously hammed up the performance a bit, but sometimes a smiling man in a black trench coat is just what your overstuffed, stupid movie needs.
Beyond this, the movie is a failure. The main character is a boy, and that is his entire personality; the movie doesn’t give him a single identifiable trait. He has dreams, draws compulsively, stumbles through a portal, and then follows Roland around. Is he smart? Funny? Angry? Does anyone like or dislike him aside from that one bully in that one scene? What does he want? What does he like? He is passively drawn along the film’s plot points, and in the end, the story concludes without his input. Spoiler.
The side characters are just as bad but are at least forgettable, and this ends up being the sort of movie where you shouldn’t expect to care about anything. Whether it’s a random 19th-century-style village or bland CGI monsters that we are told are a threat, people, places, and ideas are picked up and dropped in service of the journey to save the tower. There’s a prescient homeless guy, there are rat people wearing fake human faces…. I could list elements of the story that come right out of nowhere and contribute nothing to the overall experience, and I would have a perfectly long review.
I can’t help but think of a bonding scene where Roland teaches Jake to shoot his pistol, only to suddenly stop and say that the boy’s mind is his weapon. Jake doesn’t hold a gun for the rest of the movie, and the scene only serves to teach him an oath from the Gunslingers’ past. The boy goes back to following Roland around and occasionally fall into another disorganized, poorly lit action scene.
Much like Valerian from a few weeks ago, this movie is a bloated mess. Unlike that sci-fi blunder and its nice visuals, though, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it to make it worth seeing. The material that The Dark Tower produces simply gets lost within itself. Let Jake and the Gunslinger save the universe; you just save your money.