When a Stephen King book makes it to the cinema, it can be very hit and miss. The Shawshank Redemption is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time and The Shining is truly amazing. However, you can also end up with movies like Cell and Dreamcatcher, both of which should be buried deep in the Earth so we can forget them. But the quality of King’s work means we do get excited every time a movie is made of his stuff and with The Dark Tower said to be one of his best books, surely it will be a brilliant movie?
Jake (Tom Taylor, Doctor Foster) suffers from nightmares which show an apocalyptic world on the edge of another disaster. He discovers though that his dream world is, in fact, real; another universe where the gunslinger (Idris Elba, Zootopia) tries to stop the man in black (Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar) from destroying the Dark Tower, a monument which holds all the universes together.
Disclaimer. I have not read The Dark Tower. So don’t expect me to rant about the changes from the book to the movie. It’s always going to happen, especially when you are turning a book that’s too big to be considered hand luggage into a lean one a half hour movie. Yeah, even as someone who hasn’t read the books that seems odd. Many considered The Dark Tower an unfilmable book and you when you tackle something of that reputation, the movies tend to go long. Cloud Atlas had a similar reputation and I’m pretty sure that film outlasts Lawrence of Arabia. So even without knowing the book, there has to have been some serious surgery to make it at least manageably coherent. What I’m saying is that if you are a fan, expect to be very angry at something. I just don’t know what.
What I do know about are movies and their clichés. And I know that having a child protagonist be the one is about as boring as it comes, so much so that films have pretty much ditched the idea for the most part. Yet here we are once again with that story. A child who doesn’t realize that he is the best at a certain thing realizes that he is the best at a certain and is the only one to take down a really evil baddie. Yawn. This sort of thing should have died when Voldemort did in the Deathly Hallows, never mind be haunting me in 2017.
It doesn’t help that we have a very bland and boring protagonist to do it with. Jake is just a piece to move the story with. The movie barely tells us anything about him. His father was killed being a hero and he still misses him. He also has nightmares and is angry. That’s his personality. We don’t know his likes, his interests or anything that would make him a different person from his neighbor, who looks distressingly like him so expect to confuse the two. I can’t really blame Tom Taylor for his performance, he is given nothing to work with. But I wish he could try to have a little bit more life and maybe give some of those lines a bit more punch, though he does have a very good crying scene where he’s not afraid to do some proper ugly crying. Not enough of that in Hollywood films, everyone still manages to look nice while weeping which is certainly not the case in real life. I like a bulldog that’s been punched in the face.
And I have to call out the film for it’s weird tone. I appreciate that the movie is making an effort to be darker than some of its stablemates and not just by putting a filter on the camera DC style, though it definitely does that. It’s not afraid to kill likable characters off in gruesome ways and I imagine there were some questions at the BBFC about whether they should push it up to a 15. But if you are going to do the dark fantasy thing, do the dark fantasy thing. So when the gunslinger shows up on Earth, or Keystone Earth as he calls it, don’t suddenly change into Thor with a constant stream of fish out of water jokes that seem pulled from another movie. The film was already tiring my patience by this point because of how dull it all was, but these jokes even though they are decent on their own and ably performed are just not fitting.
The movie isn’t a complete loss though because as you’d expect, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are brilliant. Elba seems like he is made to be characters like the gunslinger, gruff, effortlessly awesome at what he does but also emotionally resolved. Even though the character very underwritten, I barely know anything about him either, Elba gives him this sense of dignity and power which makes it very understandable why Jake would follow him to the ends of the earth. And McConaughey is obviously just having fun. He’s getting to play a man that’s just incredibly evil and enjoys that he is evil, and so he’s bringing all the ham in the world. I’m told that the man in black is completely different from the books, but I think the performance from McConaughey makes him enjoyable to watch and hate.
But that doesn’t stop The Dark Tower from being very dreary. It’s meant to be an amazing book, one I will get around to reading at some point, but it doesn’t seem like it from the movie. If I had no idea about the reputation of the book beforehand, I’d have assumed this had come from another one of those crappy youth adult novels that were released after Harry Potter made JK Rowling one of the richest people on the planet. That’s because this movie has all the traits of those movies, a bland protagonist who is special and an underdeveloped plot. I’m just going to tell the movie to burn, as doing that seems to work for the man in black.