It’s Stephen King time again!
Come to think of it, even though Stephen King adaptations have never disappeared from cinema, we haven’t had a prominent one in some time, the last ones being The Mist and 1408, both released in 2007. To be fair, last year gave us the King adaptation Cell, in which cell phones turned people into zombies, but that movie was so bad that no one saw it and it fell into obscurity. Now with The Dark Tower, and the upcoming reboot of IT, Stephen King seems to be making resurgence back into cinemas. But is this resurgence off to a good start?
Our main character in The Dark Tower is a boy named Jake Chambers. Jake is psychic, and every night when he sleeps, he sees visions of the Man in Black, an evil magician who is out to destroy a large tower using the powerful minds of psychic children. This tower is the center and protector of “the universe,” and if it falls down, darkness will spread, echoing through every dimension, including Earth. Of course, no one believes Jake, not even his own mother who decides, at the suggestion of his stepfather, to send Jake off to a psychiatric ward. Jake escapes his escorts since he recognizes them as the Man in Black’s henchmen, who are out to get him for his psychic abilities.
Out on his own, Jake comes across a house that he saw in his dreams, which contains a portal to another dimension. Jake unknowingly enters the portal, and after wandering for some time, he comes across Roland (Idris Elba), known as the last living gunslinger, whose sole mission in life is to protect the Dark Tower. Roland, who happens to be immune to the Man in Black’s sorcery, is seeking revenge for his father’s death. Together, Jake and Roland form a team and set out to stop the Man in Black from unleashing a wave of darkness upon the universe.
Since I haven’t read any of the eight books in The Dark Tower series, I’m not sure how true this film is to the source material. Akiva Goldsman, one of the producers and writers, is known for sub-par adaptations, including the dreadful Batman and Robin and the even more dreadful Winter’s Tale. Fans of King’s books might judge the film based on how closely it resembles the books, but I am reviewing The Dark Tower as a stand-alone film, and as far as that goes, the film is fine enough.
The Dark Tower does have a bit of a slow start at first, mostly going through the tropes you usually find in a King story—the psychic child, bullies, the skeptical parent—in fact, I was surprised that the story doesn’t take place in Maine. Thankfully the filmmakers do not linger on these tropes for long, and the moment Jake first goes through the portal is when the plot starts moving. The best way to describe this film is a science fiction-western-adventure film that happens to include jumping through different dimensions. While not groundbreaking, it does have its charming moments.
The main thread that holds the film together is the performances. Idris Elba is one of those actors who can do no wrong, even in something terrible. Here, he owns the role of Roland, showing off a Western-style charisma similar to that of Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. Regarding the rumors of him being considered to be the next incarnation of James Bond, please make it happen! Matthew McCoughnahey also looks like he is having fun in his role as the Man in Black, and something about his nonchalant mannerisms makes his character particularly engaging. Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers gives a fine performance, although his looks, posture and wardrobe are uncannily similar to Asa Butterfield’s character in The Space Between Us. Luckily, this film is much better than that.
It takes a while for Roland’s chemistry with Jake to develop, but when it does, their partnership is pretty genuine. For example, there is a cute exchange in which Roland asks, “Are there guns and bullets in your world?” to which Jake responds, “You’re going to love Earth!” (According to a friend of mine who is an avid King reader, this was in the original novels.). At one point, the film turns into a fish-out-of water story, when Roland travels to Earth with Jake, and it is fun to watch Elba’s reactions to everything his character comes across.
The film is not without its faults, however, as it clocks in at just 95 minutes; I actually wished it was longer. I can’t help but feel like there are some areas of the film that could have been expanded upon–perhaps a deeper look into the way this universe works, a brief history of the “gunslingers” and their quest to protect the tower, or simply pursuing moments that seem unfinished, such as one where Jake shares an interest with a young woman. That scene ends almost as soon as it begins and he doesn’t even “shine” with her, which is a missed opportunity! Perhaps a sequel might delve more deeply into King’s world.
The Dark Tower, while questionable in how faithful it is to the source material, still manages to be entertaining on its own. Fans of the books might not enjoy it as much as someone unfamiliar with the series, and it could have more deeply explored the world that King has created. Fans of King’s movies, however, will have fun spotting references to other Stephen King works (I was able to spot some for The Shining, IT, and 1408). I don’t think The Dark Tower is this year’s definitive western film (I personally prefer Logan) but I enjoyed the acting and found it entertaining, so it’s a decent trip to the movies.
FUN FACT: King’s Hearts in Atlantis supposedly takes place in the same realm as the Dark Tower. If we had gotten a cameo by Anthony Hopkins at the end, we could have kick started the “Stephen King Cinematic Universe!” Hey, everybody’s doing it!