So this one exploded. Stephen King adaptations have a long history of being either astounding or forgettable. The original It, Misery, and The Shining were glorious hallmarks of the psychological horror genre that never needed to rely on gruesome spectacle to invoke feelings of true dread and fear. But then you also have adaptations like The Mist or Under the Dome that fall flat. Pet Cemetery is kind of creepy but really that's all. The issue is that King is an incredible and complex writer, a true master of the craft, and if that isn't paired with a mastery of film making you'll have projects that fail to meet expectations. Such is the case with The Dark Tower. Adapted from an 8 book epic which crosses multiple dimensions and actually ties all of Stephen King's other works together into a single parallel world universe, this movie has been raked over the coals by fans of King and just general movie goers.
Following a boy named Jake who sees visions of the evil Man in Black attempting to destroy the Dark Tower and unleash the quasi-demonic hordes from beyond the edge of reality, The Dark Tower seemingly attempts to draw all 8 of the novels together into a singular film. Following his dreams about a Gunslinger (think a knight errant who uses revolvers instead of swords) Jake jumps over to a parallel Earth as the Man in Black closes in on him to make use of the boy's emerging powers.
So let's get into what doesn't work in this film. To say that it's overburdened and rushed would be an understatement. At an hour and a half long you'll be hit with just expository dialogue to break up the few action scenes we are treated to. Character arcs and character building in general are all left by the wayside. There is so much complexity to this universe that needs to be explained and not nearly enough time to show it so we just get told everything and that's a disappointment to say the least. The film could have done well to either double its run time and explore its world, or drop the world building altogether to become the spaghetti western it becomes in the last fifteen minutes. Dialogue is either predictable or not compelling and whatever is left is just explaining what we are about to see or have just seen. Despite this we still have no idea why the Man in Black wants to destroy the Tower. We know what will happen but literally have no clue as to what his end goal is. He's already so powerful as to have legions of servant followers and could live like a king. What does he want?
Well what does work? Idris Elba is perfect in the role and plays Roland with a practiced ease. Mathew McConaughey gets the confident and swagger-full villain perfectly. The film also straddles the line between superhuman and extremely talented well with regards to Roland's gun abilities very well. The trick reloading of his revolver and shot accuracy feels almost like it was lifted from an Ip Man film. The kid is okay but not too notable.
The film really feels like you are missing a LOT of information while also giving you too much and this has really put any future for the series in jeopardy. Make no mistake, The Dark Tower novels are Stephen King's magnum opus and this has been remarkably poorly handled. If I had to pin it down I'd say that the largest flaw The Dark Tower: Gunslinger has is that it didn't hone in on any audience. It tries to explain too much and omits too much to be for fans of the books. At the same time it tries so hard to give a full retelling of an 8 book epic rife with hidden details that it can't properly be said to be made just for people new to the lore. It seems we still can't seem to learn the lessons taught to us by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Put people into the world and let them explore it as the characters do. Give it time to breathe and expand and develop. This does none of those things and fails because of it.