As a critic, I try to approach every film I view with the idea that it will be good, regardless of whatever notions I may have going in. Maybe an actor I don’t particularly care for will be used in a way I didn’t expect (see: Jai Courtney in Suicide Squad). But there’s one name that I will never understand how it keeps getting attached to any project that’s greenlit, and that’s Akiva Goldsman. Yes, the screenwriter who gave us Batman & Robin, The Da Vinci Code, and Winter’s Tale (which he also directed!), among many other pieces of trash, continues to get work. Maybe it’s because of that Oscar he won for A Beautiful Mind; I don’t know. But Goldsman’s name is attached to this movie, and as I saw his name go through the closing credits, I understood why, in spite of solid performances from Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, The Dark Tower is a surprisingly limp adaptation of a book series that has challenged creative minds in Hollywood for years.
In the universe of The Dark Tower, the Dark Tower holds the universe together, keeping the universe from plunging into darkness. There’s only one thing that can bring the Tower down: the mind of a child. In his quest to bring the Tower down, the Man in Black (McConaughey) has taken kids from different dimensions and brought them to his lair to try and destroy the Tower, but the damage he’s created has been limited to earthquakes on other worlds. On Earth, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has dreams that involve both the Man in Black and the Gunslinger (Idris Elba), the last of a line of warriors who attempted to bring down the Man in Black and lost. The Gunslinger is immune to the Man in Black’s powers, which is the only reason he’s been able to survive. When Jake stumbles into Mid-world from Earth, he teams up with the Gunslinger to try and stop the Man in Black from destroying the Dark Tower for good.
Part of what’s kept The Dark Tower from existing as a film (or TV series) for years now is the frequently-cited rationale that Stephen King’s eight-volume series is too complex to properly adapt in the forms Hollywood’s considered. It’s a lot of material that, from my understanding, essentially serves as a way for King to bring elements of many of his previous works together into one series. Knowing all of that, the fact that The Dark Tower runs a very lean 90-something minutes should be a cause for concern. Now, yes, plenty of major epics these days go on for much longer than they should, and maybe there’s something to be said for a story that tries to streamline everything into something digestible. But in this case, there are enough elements at play to suggest a universe that’s interesting, but nothing to really get an audience invested in this world.
What keeps the film from being a complete waste are the performances from Elba and McConaughey. Both men are just terrific enough actors to pull their individual parts off, with Elba conveying the Gunslinger’s weariness and McConaughey clearly enjoying the chance to play a bad guy. Technically, though, the film revolves around Jake, and Tom Taylor is not on a level to match (or come close to matching) his costars.
Now, I can’t personally attest to how faithfully this film adapts The Dark Tower, but from what I heard around me as the film wrapped, there’s little resemblance beyond a few characters and some of the locations. So that’ll be a strike for the fans of the book series. The film itself will likely not satisfy a general audience completely, either, since the film’s brief running time removes a lot of chances for the audience to connect to some of the characters. And it’s also not so bad that it’s fun to make fun of it. The Dark Tower is, instead, just…laying there, like it was knocked over by the mind of a child.