A long time ago, there was a story about a Man in Black fleeing across the desert, and the Gunslinger who followed. I'd heard about this story, told in the pages of Stephen King's novels, but sadly hadn't experienced it myself. With this lack of knowledge, I walked willingly into the adventure we currently know as The Dark Tower's theatrical adaptation. Now that I have, I'm ready to dive into those older stories, as this newer pseudo-sequel has enough excitement and intrigue to fully draw me into the fold.
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been having some pretty bad dreams. Visions of a dark tower, a man in black (Matthew McConaughey), and the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) hell bent on killing him before he succeeds in destroying said tower. The only problem is, no one believes him when he says these vivid dreams are real. All of that is about to change, as the worlds of both Jake and Roland the Gunslinger are about to cross, with the fate of all connected worlds hanging in the balance.
Judging The Dark Tower solely on its theatrical representation, it's clear that the film is definitely the more blockbuster version of a Stephen King story. The main point of contention folks might have with the film is the fact that it doesn't feel as weighty as Stephen King's known canon of work. That's not a totally bad thing, but it does lead to problems for people coming in with more background in the author's works (this series, specifically). Admittedly, the world of the original series of novels might be a little much for fans with casual knowledge of the series, or folks that are just going into The Dark Tower cold. So having a more grounded introduction to Roland and The Man in Black's bitter feud is something that does serve a purpose, but also stands to potentially alienate fans with more time -- and passion -- invested in the pre-existing history.
It should also be noted that The Dark Tower is a slim feature, with a little over 90 minutes credited as the film's running time. While it does feel a bit thin, that's not to say that it's not a total experience, as the story is still really engaging, with a visual flare and breakneck pacing that keep The Dark Tower chugging along at a good clip. Though there's still plenty of references to both Tower lore and the Stephen King universe that will entertain, or at the very least give folks a good chuckle. But if you're looking for a little more in your storytelling, you'll have to wait for the proposed sequel / TV series, which of course depends on how successful The Dark Tower is in theaters.
With a film this short, you obviously need engaging leads, and in the case of The Dark Tower, all three of the lead actors manage to shine with their time on screen. Idris Elba's Roland is the stuff that dreams are made off, with a mix of the grizzled, world-weary nature he exhibits in his home dimension, as well as a Thor-like confusion of the way our world works once he crosses through a portal into our universe. It's in the latter context especially that Elba jibes with Tom Taylor's Jake, who is a sterling cipher for anyone who's new to the world of The Dark Tower.
But perhaps the MVP of The Dark Tower is none other than Matthew McConaughey's Walter, the fabled Man in Black that haunts Jake's nightmares and Roland's memories. With a mix of cool menace and subtle threats, McConaughey is having a hell of a time playing the man who wreaks havoc in most of the worlds Stephen King has created, and he's not afraid to show it. It's a performance that's just the right amount of entertaining, without crossing over into complete scenery chewing.
Now's a good time to remind die-hard fans of The Dark Tower books that this film isn't a one-for-one adaptation of The Gunslinger. Rather it's a loose interpretation of the story, due to a twist at the end of the literary series that started it all. So already The Dark Tower has a point in its column, as it's a film that not only tries to play to the older fans of the franchise, but also tries to bring in a new group of fans that might stick around for future installments. As a member of the latter, I can safely say that I was impressed enough that I'm ready to take the full journey, and see more of what co-writer / director Nikolaj Arcel has in store for the rest of his Dark Tower vision.
There's a fair amount of pre-conceived buzz going around pertaining to The Dark Tower, due to the supposedly troubled production cycle and significant history of stalled attempts in the project's past, and it's kind of unfair. While The Dark Tower may leave a little more to be desired, it's a pretty strong start to a promising series. Most importantly, it's a visual spectacle of action and fantasy that leaves the audience wanting more, while delivering one of the last thrills in store for this summer's box office season. I want more Dark Tower films, if only so we can see Roland and the Man in Black fulfill this last hand destiny has dealt them; and now, I need to read the books to see where they started their game of death. To paraphrase the Man in Black himself, we deserve at least one more time around the wheel with these old friends.