Relegating the killer opening line of Stephen King’s sprawling saga – “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed” – to mid-film voiceover immediately gets this already-maligned adaptation off on the wrong foot. It’s a sign of what’s to come in this reinterpretation that misses so much of what makes The Dark Tower series tick that it’ll let down fans as much as it perplexes newcomers.
It’s important to take the film at face value, even if those involved have forgotten the faces of their fathers, but let’s start with the most deflating departure from the source material. Idris Elba’s gunslinger Roland isn’t the main character of the film, barely appearing for the first third – instead we follow generic white kid Jake, whose relationship with Roland never contains King’s heartrending partings.
As director Nikolaj Arcel collages together moments from the novels into this first film chapter, the effect is to shorten the epic nature of the duo’s quest. Quicker and easier, there’s also nowhere near enough time to see their relationship develop. Nor is King’s increasingly-complex mythology allowed to gradually unfurl – it’s borderline nonsensical from the get-go. The film’s conclusion, too, is so brusquely definitive – even while teasing further adventures – that based on the hokum of the preceding 90 minutes, there is only terrible narrative trickery in the future, were the story to continue.
Given Elba’s screen time, we unsurprisingly don’t see enough of him in action – when we do, he is everything you’d want him to be, though the action sequences themselves are clumsy, generic, and sometimes dated. Matthew McConaughey’s casting seemed equally inspired, but he’s allowed to be too much of a caricature of a villain, especially when frequently spouting gobbledegook exposition to underlings in his cliched baddie’s lair. Reduced to a generic cartoon team-up mystic dimension-hopping action movie that barely functions, marred by terrible supporting performances, The Dark Tower is a hugely missed opportunity.