Release date: 18th August 2017/Watch the trailer here
Adapting epic fantasy series The Dark Tower – written by Stephen King and spanning eight books – was never going to be an easy task, but surely someone could have done a better job of it than this. Brought to the big screen by director Nikolaj Arcel and writer Akiva Goldsman (whose previous work includes Batman & Robin, Insurgent, The 5th Wave and Transformers: The Last Knight, which really should have acted as a warning for the fate of this film), The Dark Tower took an incredible ten years to finally get made, after being passed along between various studios and filmmakers, with both J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard having been attached to it at one point. Combining elements of the story from multiple novels, the intention was to launch a film and television franchise, but as it currently stands, that’s looking far from likely.
The film primarily follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), an eleven-year-old boy who has been having dreams about another dimension called Mid-World. Upon discovering that his dreams are actually reality, he stumbles through a portal into Mid-World and finds himself caught up in the battle between Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last of the Gunslingers, and his nemesis Walter o’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), a sorcerer known as the Man in Black. Roland is on a quest to protect the Dark Tower, a mythical structure that holds the entire universe together and which the Man in Black is hoping to topple.
The decision to make Jake the protagonist of the story is both understandable and frustrating: evidently the filmmakers were hoping that a young hero from New York City would give the film wider, more universal appeal, but the result plays out like an adaptation of a bad YA novel at a time when the demand for such films is long over. The choice to condense an entire book series into one, ninety-five minute movie is also a frustrating one: successful fantasy adaptations such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings worked because they released a film per novel, taking the time to flesh out the universes and their characters and, in the process, giving the studios a steady stream of box office revenue for years to come. The Dark Tower, however, will struggle to find an audience in such a way: fans of the books are sure to be disappointed by just how much is missing, but newcomers to the series will likely find themselves baffled by the complete lack of world building. The Dark Tower feels the very furthest thing from epic or fantastical; instead it has the awful feel of a pilot episode to a television series that ends up being cancelled after the first season.
Most frustrating of all is that it’s not all terrible; there are (very) occasional moments of greatness that hint at the potential The Dark Tower had. For one thing, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are an example of perfect casting – but they’re utterly wasted on a weak plot and a screenplay packed with cringeworthy one-liners (not even McConaughey can make the line ‘have a good apocalypse’ work for him). For a film of its genre, it’s almost ridiculously short, but by the time the cliché-ridden finale rolls around you’re practically begging for it to just get it over with.
The only thing worse than a bad film is a bad film that could have been a great one. The Dark Tower takes that one step further: it’s a bad film that could have kick-started an entire franchise of great films. Instead, we’ll probably have a very long wait before any filmmaker (and hopefully a competent one, next time) is brave enough to tackle The Dark Tower again.