The original “The Dark Tower” series is a series of eight books written by Stephen King that basically ties together all his stories into one ‘universe’. Initially, he visualized the lead ‘gunslinger’ as a “Clint Eastwood” type who travels the worlds looking to eliminate the “man in black” who is planning to destroy the tower – which is holding back darkness from the universe. The first book was published in 1982.
The series has been kicked around as either a movie or TV series idea for several years, but has fallen through many times because the material is a bit overwhelming. This movie version tries to be epic, but ends up falling flat.
The story begins with a boy, Jake, struggling in life in our world – getting bullied in school because he’s dealing with the recent death of his father. His mother is remarried, and he spends most of his time drawing sketches of his dreams or visions. He continually dreams of a man in black using children to attack a tower, and of a gunslinger who is attempting to stop him.
Eventually, Jake gets some creepy messages from both his visions and a random homeless guy, and figures out that he is being followed by ‘skins’, creepy demons wearing human masks. You can pick them out because of the seam in the flesh on their necks. One day, his mom and step father are attempting to ship him off to a ‘facility’ where he can ‘get the help he needs’, but he recognizes the attendants there to pick him up as ‘skins’, so he runs away to a house he saw in his visions. Once in the house, he defeats the house demon (no, I have no idea how, or even why there is a house demon, or really, what the house demon’s deal was – protecting the house?), punches a code into what seems to be a stargate generator, and transports into another world.
Jake runs into Roland, the gunslinger, and tells him about his visions and where the man in black, Walter, is, and what he is doing. Together, he and Roland head off through a desert, then a creepy forest where they encounter a demon who fakes being both of their dead fathers, then a village with a seer. The seer lets everybody know that Walter is after Jake because Jake has a very powerful “shine”, which seems to be telepathy, with limited telekinesis. Walter can use him to attack the tower because his mind is more powerful than others. Walter sends some bounty-hunter-style demons to attack the village looking for Jake, but he and Roland head off back to our world.
We then have a brief and hilarious sequence of Roland attempting to deal with our world, including attempting to pay for doctor services with a silver coin, telling party girls on a bus that they “have forgotten the faces of their fathers”, and getting excited about the surplus of bullets. Quickly enough Walter figures out where they are, grabs the kid, and heads off to the ‘hub’ area to use Jake to attack the tower. Roland has to fight through a collection of ‘skins’ here to get to the portal, and defeat Walter to grab Jake – then the two of them set off on more adventures.
The movie is directed by Nikolaj Arcel; and while parts of it are interesting, the majority of it is really disjointed and unnecessarily complicated. It feels like they tried to fit in way too much, and ended up cutting everything a bit short, so nothing really has enough of an explanation. The skins were interesting, but we never get to know anything about them. Exactly how is Walter using kids to fire bolts of power at the tower? What exactly will happen if the tower falls? Because Roland attempts to explain it with a stick, dirt circles, and a tarantula. What are those skins doing on our world, just hanging out, or constantly hunting kids? What was up with the folks in that village? I feel like all of these questions may have been answered in the book, but I have never read it. If you have, let me know if it better explains all of these random questions. The cast is fine, and they execute the material, but no one really elevates it.
- Idris Elba does what he can with what is there. He’s fantastic at glowering, and even better at the action. Honestly, I couldn’t help but be exceptionally irritated that he’s not James Bond, because watching him do the action in this, and saunter around in some fantastic costuming makes me realize he would be outstanding as Bond. Dammit, Daniel Craig.
- Matthew McConaughey plays Walter, and slinks his way through the movie, avoiding twirling a mustache by chewing then scenery slowly. He relishes the role and does a fine job, but since I really did not understand why he was doing what he was doing, aside from him wanting to unleash darkness, I found him uninteresting as a character.
- Tom Taylor was pretty good as Jake Chambers, his sadness at the beginning was offset nicely by his hope at the end. I did find it puzzling that Roland tells him his “shine” is his weapon, and I wanted to see it used as a weapon – he uses it to communicate, and to hold a portal open, but I really wanted to see him dark phoenix with it and throw some skins around.
- Katheryn Winnick from Vikings plays his mother Laurie, and she’s fine, attempting to help her son, but also growing frustrated. Walter did kill her off-screen, which was a little strange.
- Jackie Earle Haley plays Sayre – I did not know that character’s name until I looked him up on IMDB. Basically, he’s the skin demon stationed in New York to help hunt down kids and provide some exposition.
- Claudia Kim from Avengers Age of Ultron plays the seer Arra Champignon. There wasn’t much there for her to do, so she was fine as she generally warned everyone after telling them Roland’s lineage (he’s from Arthur’s line, and his guns are made from the metal of ExCalibur!).
- Dennis Haysbert briefly appears as Roland’s father (he’s 63, Idris is 44), and he’s cool while he’s there to help Roland remember the Gunslinger's Creed.
- Fran Kranz plays Pimli – one of the skins operating Walter’s child-weapon-tower-blasting-hub location.
I didn’t like it very much, I don’t think that’s because the movie wasn’t good, I think it’s because it was too ambitious and took on too much. I will say that they did walk a fine line – the movie could have fallen into “gun porn” – after all, the hero is a literal gunslinger. However, they manage to be fairly careful about it, and not go overboard with the gun-love. At one point he does hand the gun to the kid (which made me very uncomfortable), and lets him shoot it, but takes it back from him pretty quickly. There were some things that were interesting and I wanted more of them, but the movie had to include so much, they couldn’t really explain the parts I found interesting, which ironically caused me to lose interest in the whole thing.
4 out of 10 – gained points for trying, and for Idris’s outfit. Lost points for just about everything else, including how much McConaughey’s hair changes from scene to scene. He doesn’t even have that much hair.
Bonus – In case you forgot, in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Idris played a French monk.