I will preface by saying I never read the book series by Stephen King but I know of them. The premise has always intrigued me. It has this cool western/fantasy vibe and these mysterious, cool characters. It all seemed like an idea that would make a great movie. Unfortunate then that throughout my time watching it I was just baffled at how they managed to mess it up.
(Minor spoilers, of course)
The Dark Tower is directed by Nikolaj Arcel, whose previous works have been reviewed well. Add in the fact the movie stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, there’s obvious talent here. It really falls apart with its pacing, however. No amount of acting or cool gunslinging action could save it.
This movie is in a rush to get itself over with. It brushes past any chance at character development and doesn’t spend the time to build up tension or excitement. A story needs to have peaks and valleys and this film lacks that. There’s no highs and lows. The relationship between Roland and the young boy, Jake, is practically non-existent because they aren’t given time to really get to know each other. They spend the majority of the movie together and yet I never felt like a bond formed between them. When the movie finally gets to the climax I personally didn’t have an emotional reaction. Nothing feels genuine. Idris Elba and Tom Taylor (who plays Jake Chambers) give fine performances, it’s just not enough.
The first act actually does a very good job of setting up Jake’s character. We see who he is, how people view him, and the problems he’s dealing with. He’s a character I could root for. Roland, however, doesn’t get the same kind of treatment. We do get to see some of his past but it’s poorly handled. We’re first introduced to him via one of Jake’s dreams and he just pops up. It’s like, “Oh, I guess we’re seeing some of Roland’s backstory now.” No build up. No mystery. We’re kind of just shown him without any fanfare. We do learn why he’s hunting The Man in Black, but the film never decides to go deeper into analyzing this interesting character.
Speaking of The Man in Black, who is played by Matthew McConaughey, we’re never given a clear motivation for why he’s trying to accomplish his goal. We learn that he wants to destroy the dark tower, which is protecting all worlds from an evil outside our dimension, but that’s it. As far as I could tell, he’s just doing it because he’s evil. I don’t need a villain to be sympathetic or have the most intriguing of motivations, just something more than the bare minimum would be nice.
What’s worse is that the dialogue in this movie is pretty bland. Nothing anyone says is particularly interesting. You have these great actors and no combination of them have an engaging conversation. They even repeat information multiple times throughout the movie and it can feel awkward. An example would be when Roland is introduced, he’s being attacked by The Man in Black who mentions that Roland for some reason isn’t affected by his magic. This feels out of place because it’s something they both already know, so it’s only being said to fill in the audience. Later in the movie, one of The Man in Black’s men ask him why he doesn’t just kill Roland and he says the same thing. The second time you at least had a character ask, so it was more natural to share that piece of information. It makes me wonder why it was even brought up earlier in the movie if it was addressed later. Was it because the writers were worried the audience wouldn’t be able to follow along if we didn’t know why Roland wasn’t affected by The Man in Black’s magic? Give us some credit. We can follow a story just fine even if all the details aren’t spoon fed to us at once.
Because of the pacing, bland dialogue, and lack of time spent getting to know more about the characters and the world, it’s hard to care. If you don’t care, nothing has an impact. This film is hollow. That’s how I felt when leaving the theatre: hollow. I’m not even mad, just disappointed. The action is cool and the actors are enjoyable enough to watch, but everything else fails this movie. Go into it with low expectations if you plan on checking it out. It’s a great idea that’s poorly executed.
(NOTE: Anyone curious why I didn’t use a promotional image from the movie, it was because my choices were either picking something that was lower than 720p or using the poster. I didn’t like the poster.)