Every time anything with Stephen King’s name stamp on it comes out, I get super excited (He is, after all, one of my favourite authors!), so I was super psyched to watch The Dark Tower movie.
As a self-professed King fan, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read any of the Dark Tower books in his behemoth 7-titled series – but only because it was hard to find earlier titles in bookstores, and I didn’t want to start in the middle. This was a blessing in disguise. I went in to the movie with only the tiniest notion of what the books were about (a gunslinger in a fantasy world where forces are out to destroy The Dark Tower, which links all the worlds together), so I had none of the ‘baggage’ or expectations of a reader. And guess what? I liked the film, despite its abysmal 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe it would have been different if I had read it (case in point: The Hobbit – which Hollywood utterly destroyed) but I thought it was a nice, solid film with good casting and a well balanced dose of action.
11-year-old New Yorker Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has recurring dreams of a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who forces children with psychic powers to channel their energy into destroying a Dark Tower. He is aided by monsters, dressed in human skin suits. There is also a gunslinger who opposes him.
Jake’s visions coincide with increasingly frequent earthquakes in the city. When he relates these to his mother, stepfather and psychiatrists, they dismiss it as trauma from his father’s recent death. His stepfather, who wants him out of the house, eventually convinces Jake’s mother to send the boy away to a hospital – but when the alleged facility people come to take him away, he recognises them as the monsters from his dreams because of the seams under their necks. Fleeing, he eventually locates an abandoned house from one of his visions and discovers a portal, where he travels to a parallel dimension dubbed the Mid-World. There, he encounters the Gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last of his kind from a line of medieval knights, sworn to protect the Tower. Roland is seeking the Man in Black, Walter, as revenge for killing his father who was also a gunslinger. Jake learns that the Tower is all that is protecting the universe from ‘outside’ monsters, hell bent on invading and destroying reality as we know it – and that the Man in Black wants to let them in by harvesting the powers of psychic children.
Meanwhile, Walter investigates Jake’s escape and the portal breach; coming to the conclusion that Jake’s psychic powers are far beyond anything that they have seen so far. And so the hunt for Jake begins… can Roland protect him and save the world?
I don’t know why there’s so much hate for the film. Maybe I have low standards (?) but I quite liked it. Of course, it’s not mind-blowingly good, but with a run-time of only 96 minutes, it was short, sweet and entertaining. The Independent called it ‘wildly unfaithful and simplistic to fans of King’s books’. Maybe so, but how do you condense a mammoth 7 books into one short film? Even Peter Jackson had to stretch out the Hobbit into a trilogy. I felt that Nikolai Arcel did a pretty decent job, considering.
The plot is simple enough that newbies should be able to understand without having to read an encyclopedia of King lore, and the cast is stellar. If nothing else, critics all agree that Idris Elba makes an excellent Roland. His world-weary portrayal of a Gunslinger who has lost his way and purpose, only to find it again through an optimistic, never-say-die young boy, is inspiring. Elba is effortlessly cool and scenes where he draws his gun and shoots baddies are awesome. I especially liked the Gunslinger’s Oath (which, in my mind, when recited by anyone else would appear almost cheesy and comical).
Jake is also very likeable; coming across as courageous and quick-witted. Some critics have panned the way the movie focuses on Jake more than the Gunslinger, but I felt it was a good way to build up the story without taking away from Roland’s role. Action sequences are choreographed well, and I enjoyed picking out the little Easter eggs from King’s other novels throughout the film.
The weakest link among the cast is, sadly, The Man in Black. Matthew McConaughey’s slick, snakeskin-oil salesman persona lacks real menace, and for a sorcerer who can make others stop breathing with just a few words, he seems rather mild and tame compared to some truly disturbing villains.
While I wouldn’t say it’s a great film, I felt it wasn’t as awful as critics made it out to be. Definitely watchable, especially on a lazy weekend.