Year: 2017
Director(s): Nikolaj Arcel
Writer(s): Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Stephen King, Anders Thomas Jensen
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 95 mins

Synopsis: A boy finds himself caught up in the battle between good and evil. 

Stephen King’s stories have never been easy to adapt. His work has withstood the test of time, but is constantly reimagined into lesser forms. The latest to follow suite is King’s sprawling epic, The Dark Tower, this time from director Nikolaj Arcel and producer Ron Howard. Those familiar with the story know that it works in a cyclical way, with the film fulling taking advantage of this to create an adjacent sequel. At a brisk 95 minutes, the film packs in a lot of information, most of which may fly over the uninitiated. Though this is a mixed bag, there might be enough inspired moments to please King fans or causal viewers alike.

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is an NYC teen haunted by recurring dreams. In particular, these dreams feature a massive Tower with kids being herded inside, a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) and a Gunslinger who engages him in battle (Idris Elba). In the real world, earthquakes rattle globally and Jake thinks there’s a connection between these anomalies and the Tower he sees being attacked. Jake soon realizes that the dreams are in fact visions of something beyond his world, eventually uncovering a portal to a place called Mid-World. Crossing over, he discovers that the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain is real, and his adversary The Man in Black has a dark plan for all of reality.

Overall, the effort feels shallow, even if it’s constantly entertaining and hurtling towards an inevitable conclusion. On the upside, the film foregoes a lot of standard exposition, dropping us into the middle of Jake’s story and allowing us to piece things together. It makes for a very jarring form of story telling, but keeps the film lean, allowing McConaughey’s sinister charm to remain urgent. On the downside, it does feel very choppy at times, as if it’s been cobbled from numerous scripts and visions. It seems to work best when it isn’t afraid of being weird, with a psychic reading and skinwalker sequence that are easy standouts. In addition, Rasmus Videbæk’s photography is gritty and Tom Holkenborg has turned in an operatic score. Fans will also appreciate that this is another “turn of the wheel”, an alternate version of the source material that keeps things new.

At the very least, the film enjoys the anchor of three stellar leads: Tom Taylor, Idris Elba, and Matthew McConaughey. Elba has a strong screen presence that makes us wish we could spend more time with his version of Roland. Taylor has sincerity and hopelessness that makes you root for him when things turn bleak (a stroke of genius on part of the writers was to make Jake a bit older than he is in the source material). McConaughey is totally enjoying his time on the dark side, playing a mustache-twirling villain with evil glee. McConaughey even gets one of the film’s best moments, greeting Jake’s mom and her boyfriend with his devilish charm.

What’s most disappointing about The Dark Tower is the wasted potential. Obviously, the major hurdle was in adapting King’s story into truncated chapters. The re-interpretation feels fitting, but hasn’t been executed in the best way – this definitely could’ve served well from more pointed direction. The third act in particular suffers from this lack of vision and coherence, but the thrill works, and I hope get to see Roland of Gilead and Jake of New York fare much better in the future.