A moment comes towards the end of The Dark Tower—Stephen King's novel series come to life on the big screen—when a thought occurs: "Are they really ending this already? What the hell?" Indeed, the long-percolating project from director Nikolaj Arcel (better known as writer for the original Swedish production of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) crams so very much into so very little time that practically everything suffers, not least of which is the pacing.
We follow a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor) who, in the wake of his father's death, has started having dream visions of a man in another world who's hell-bent on destroying this mysterious dark tower that, like, stops demons from breaking into the multiverse somehow … or something. Of course, everyone from his mom to his therapist to his shit-heel stepdad (or mom's boyfriend or whatever) doesn't believe that the visions are real. Jake sure is persistent, though, and when he busts into that other world through some sci-fi portal machine, it turns out he was right the whole time and he's got psychic superpowers that amount to some sort of telepathic communication ability.
An ancient battle was fought and lost here between the Man in Black (a seemingly bored Matthew McConaughey) and the Gunslingers, an ancient order of knights. It is eluded to that they might be related to Arthurian legend somehow … or something. Roland (aka the Gunslinger; Idris Elba, who makes a sincere go of it) is the last of the order, and having also lost his father (plus his buddies), he identifies with and joins Jake to stop the destruction of the tower and kill the Man in Black.
If it sounds cool, that's because it could have been. But with so much source material and a relatively short running time, we don't have a chance to care for anyone before the Man in Black's cartoonish super-villainy gets out of hand. McConaughey plays this in a too-calm-and-collected sort of way, which could say something about how he's so evil he doesn't even bother with emotions, but mostly it feels lacking in drama.
Oh, there are neat little visual tricks that show how the Gunslinger is super-good at reloading his guns in various ways, but the threats never seem particularly perilous and the Man in Black's motives boil down to "he's just evil" … or something.
The Dark Tower could have easily been two-plus hours and far more awesome; hell, it could have been two or three movies. In fact, it should have been, but if we had to guess, it'll probably do pretty poorly and wind up on the cinematic ash heap forgotten to time ... or something.
+ Super-cool idea
- Super-uncool execution
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The Dark Tower
Directed by Arcel
With Taylor, Elba, McConaughey
Violet Crown, Regal, PG-13, 95 min.