Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for Gunslinging and Fire Beasts
Release Date: August 4, 2017
Unlike most bloated modern blockbusters, The Dark Tower keeps it under two hours, clocking in at a merciful 95 minutes. Unfortunately, that is the best thing about it. Within the first 10 minutes of this dud, and for the remaining 85 thereafter, my primary thought was, “Well, at least it is going to be over soon.” This adaptation of Stephen King’s long-running series of novels could benefit from an extended runtime, as it would allow room to actually explain what the hell is going on, but that could only improve it so much, as its problems run much deeper than narrative confusion.
The crowd I saw it with applauded at the end, and several other times throughout, so perhaps if you’re a Dark Tower aficionado (do you call yourselves “gunslingers”?), it might work for you, but for the uninitiated, there is no effort to explain character motivations or the rules that govern this world. The point of this whole adventure is saving the titular structure, as its destruction would lead to the extinction of all existence. Roland (Idris Elba), a gunslinger, is trying to protect it, but he is stuck in an epic interdimensional struggle with Walter (Matthew McConaughey), aka the Man in Black, a sorcerer who wants to … destroy the tower? Or control it? Or just accumulate power in general? The fight between these two has possibly been lasting for centuries, or maybe just hours. The stakes between them seem especially personal, but they do not need to be, considering that Walter’s villainy is all-encompassing.
Sucked up into all this, for no clearly discernible reason, is young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor). Jake does not really fit the Chosen One fantasy trope, mostly because he barely registers as a character as all. His presence in this conflict is mostly accidental. He has “the shine,” a psychic ability found in many of King’s works, which allows him to observe interdimensional goings-on in his dreams but does not make him particularly interesting.
The Dark Tower manages to wring out a few decent stabs at humor, thanks to Roland’s fish-out-of-water presence when Jake whisks him away to Earth. He asks “what breed?” when told he is eating a hot dog and pops a whole cocktail of painkillers like they’re candy. Most pointedly, Jake assures him that he is going to love Earth, due to its much easier availability of bullets than Roland is used to. But it occasionally feels like he should have a better idea of what is going on, or maybe he should have no idea at all. If you told me that Roland had visited Earth 100 times previously, or never, both possibilities would sound just as believable.
Something resembling laughter also comes from King’s knack for inexplicable dialogue, which is relentless throughout. The Dark Tower epitomizes the sort of complicated story that makes perfect sense to the people telling it but leaves no guidance for outsiders to find their way in.
The Dark Tower is Recommended If You Like: Stephen King’s awkward dialogue, Administering the autopsy on a box office disaster
Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Magics