by Adam Riske
After many years of development and creative turmoil, we finally get the first film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel series The Dark Tower. Unfortunately, the result feels destined to satisfy no one. I came to The Dark Tower as someone who has not read any of the novels and I can say that the movie does a lackluster job of indoctrinating a new audience to the lore and sweep of the story. It’s not a movie where I was totally at sea because it has many classic tropes of the genre (e.g. a child audience conduit into a new world, an ultimate hero facing off with an ultimate evil etc.), but the specificity lost me and my guess is the little details and not the central conflict are what makes The Dark Tower novels special to so many readers. The movie feels generic and without an authorial voice. Also, it’s one of those multiverses. Do you dig on multiverses? I dig on multiverses - but not this one.
On the other side, Matthew McConaughey’s performance as The Man in Black is a miscalculation. Is it true to the novels? I can’t say, but on screen he doesn’t feel threatening enough as the ultimate evil. Part of that is the movie doesn’t take the time to build him as an absolute threat, instead choosing to let McConaughey strut around like Mick Jagger and hiss his dialogue. This so feels like a performance where the actor said “I want my body language to be like a rattlesnake.” It gets annoying because it’s so one-note and unimaginative (it reminded me of Charlize Theron’s take on a big bad in The Fate of the Furious). You have to make your performance invisible within the film in a genre entry and not play it like you’re acting in quotes, which I see so many Oscar winners do when they go “slumming.” Filling out the notable cast is Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, our guide through The Dark Tower story. He’s effective and gives the movie an earnestness that helps it along, but he’s not charismatic enough to drag the movie to success alone. No one is. Not even Idris Elba.
I feel bad for fans of The Dark Tower novels more than anything. This is an easy movie for a Dark Tower virgin to shake off, but for a true fan it must be difficult to see your thing bastardized and fail so much that it might be a long time before it gets the adaptation/re-interpretation on-screen that it deserves.
All in all, The Dark Tower is not the worst movie of the summer, but it is a major missed opportunity.