“The Dark Tower” is based on an epic fantasy series by Stephen King. However, it feels anything but epic. It actually feels as restrained as other Stephen King stories, such as “The Body” or “Misery.” The only difference between those movies and this one is the scale and budget, neither of which are used to their fullest merit.
We “meet” each character in the opening minutes of the film, but no character feels properly feels properly introduced (hence the quotation marks around meet). With the exception of the lead character, Jake Chambers (played by an often stoic but occasionally effective Tom Taylor), neither of the other two leads (Idris Elba as Roland the Gunslinger, Matthew McConaughey as Walter, The Man in Black) are given time to establish an emotional connection with the audience. Both characters essentially walk into frame, and that’s it. The only actor in the film that is given some semblance of characterization is Taylor, but he is directed in a way that downplays any emotion that could be drawn from his performance.
The opposite could be said about Elba and McConaughey, who rise above their underwritten characters and deliver performances with a bit of weight behind them. Elba brings an emotional earnestness to the table that is sorely lacking in other areas of the movie, and McConaughey does his best impersonation of Matthew McConaughey from the darkest timeline from “Community.” They fulfill the good guy/bad guy roles well enough, but the problem is they do not share much screen time together. Elba and McConaughey only have a handful of scenes together, despite the film’s central plot revolving around The Gunslinger getting revenge on The Man in Black. Whenever the two share time together, the scenes explode with energy and charisma. The same cannot be said when Elba and Taylor have scenes together, in which case Elba does a lot of the heavy work.
Although The Man in Black’s plan includes destroying the universe, the biggest villain in the movie is its own ambition. Director Nikolaj Arcel is clearly a fan of King’s work (as displayed through several references to other King adaptations), and attempts to craft a story as emotional and imaginative as King’s vision for this world. At some points, the imagination shines through, and those sequences are fascinating to watch unfold. However, the film’s rushed pace and editing (clocking in at 95 minutes) make the movie feel handicapped, as if it had more to say. Imagine condensing “The Lord of the Rings” film series down into one 90 minute film; that is how “The Dark Tower” feels. One of the great themes running throughout King’s work is innocence victimized by cynicism. Unfortunately, that theme is present in the filmmaking here: the director’s intent is pure, but it falls short in quality because of the needs of a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster.
Despite bolstering some solid performances from Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, as well as some decent imagination, the film’s rushed pacing makes for a fine but hollow movie-going experience.