A mysterious Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) is using children to strike at the Dark Tower, the structure in the center of the multiverse that keeps demons and other forces of darkness out. This tower protects all the various universes and keeps them stable. The only thing standing in his way is Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the gunslinger. And as Mid World is barely holding on, the Man in Black is clearly winning. Meanwhile, on our Earth, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been having dreams of all of these people and events. Of course this makes everyone think he is crazy. While his visions fall on deaf ears here, he is worth a lot on Mid World. The Man in Black can use him to finally fully take down the tower, or Deschain can use the locations in his visions to finally find his nemesis and have revenge.
Not having read any of the Stephen King books, I can’t speak as to how it compares . I can tell however that a lot was left out. Understandably so, there’s never any way to get everything from the book into the film. There are many unanswered questions, like what exactly is the Man in Black? How did he even get into power? What are the beings that that work for him/with him? What’s the underlying mythology of what we’re seeing? We get the bare bones, just enough to know why Jake and Deschain are special and what the goal of the Man in Black is but not much else. And definitely not enough to spur any emotional attachment to anything we see happen.
All of the extra stuff is hinted at through the excellent performances of Elba and McConaughey. While he’s not the main character, Deschain’s personal need to kill The Man in Black and all the baggage that creates really carries the film. Elba is great at physically showing the weight of pain, anger, and despair on Deschain. His stoic character emotes a weariness that hints at how much he and the world has lost at the hands of The Man in Black. If the rest of the movie had stepped up to his talent, this would have been a much stronger film. His character has some of the funniest moments in the movie, especially when he makes it to our world and you see how ‘not from here’ he is. He journeys from wounded to restored over the course of the film in an organic way that never feels rushed.
McConaughey does well playing the other side of the coin. Representing pure evil for evils’ sake it seems, he glides through every scene with an unflappable grace and power. He comes across as a man with unimaginable power used to doing whatever he wants, which makes for some genuinely funny moments in scenes that are otherwise horrifying for the people around him. It makes for good tension whenever he appears onscreen. In all of his scenes with Elba they act as nearly perfect foils for each other. The rage and heat of the emotionally defeated Gunslinger vs the cool amusement of a man who thinks his victory is inevitable. This is really the best part of the whole movie.
Even though he’s young, Tom Taylor stands up well between these two experienced actors. His character could have come across as annoying or useless, but he manages to hold his ground well in his scenes. He and Elba have good chemistry together even if the overall film never really gets you deeply attached to what happens to him.
Outside of the acting, the other aspects of the movie fall a bit short. The music oddly never really adds much to any of the action happening on screen. It’s almost as if they decided to attach a soundtrack called “generic dramatic music”. Visually the strongest aspects of the film are in the beginning, when they briefly try to inject some horror with the Two Skins and the demons. Outside of that, neither Keystone Earth or Mid World have any visual flair to them. Everything looks a little subdued, which arguably Mid world should be if it’s a defeated world, but there’s never anything that out and out looks cool. That gets saved for the Gunslinger’s gun tricks and the Man in Black’s magic abilities. It’s good that these scenes are done well, but you’ll find yourself wishing more things on that level showed up.
Overall, Dark Tower is no where as bad as you’ll hear a lot of critics saying. It’s not a horrible movie but it doesn’t do anything great either. The beginning is a little slow but it’s watchable and mildly entertaining, just for Elba’s and McConaughey’s performances alone. If the movie makes enough money for a sequel, hopefully they’ll flesh out the world more and give the audience something to care about.