Stephen King's epic The Dark Tower series comes to the big screen with a whole lot of star power. Idris Elba headlines as Roland Deschain, The Last Gunslinger; with a diabolical Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black. Fans have been chomping at the bit for years to see these characters on film. The diehards hoping to see all eight novels crammed into one movie are going to be sorely disappointed. The Dark Tower is an origin story, but it picks up where the last novel ends. It's a primer, a helicopter view of a supremely complex story. I would have liked more detail, but agree with the approach the filmmakers took. The Dark Tower is swift entertainment, Stephen King's epic Dark Tower novel series is not. It gets to the point quickly; setting up the marquee match up between a quick draw fighter and the devil incarnate.
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a troubled New York City teen. He's plagued by visions of a tall, Dark Tower in the clouds. It is under assault by the evil Man in Black. This villain is locked in an eternal struggle with a mysterious gunslinger, who has lost everything to his merciless enemy. The visions are followed by earthquakes that rattle the city. Jake's parents and friends think he's crazy. Just when he's about to be shipped off to an asylum, Jake discovers an important clue to his nightmares. His realization is cut short by visitors. The Man in Black has become aware of his existence. Only the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain, can protect Jake and save The Dark Tower from the Man in Black.
The Dark Tower is told from Jake's point of view. This is a total departure from the novels, but makes sense for the film. Director Nik Arcell and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman use Jake as the vehicle for understanding. The audience learns the lore as Jake progresses through the story. This approach works, but it means that Jake's character has the majority of screen time. Roland Deschain appears briefly in a vision, but does not become an integral part of the plot until the second act. That's too long a wait for his introduction.
Matthew McConaughey delivers the strongest performance as The Man in Black. He is effectively menacing by his casual demeanor. McConaughey has a tendency to go big in his roles. Not this time, thankfully he dials his persona back and it makes the character deadlier. Idris Elba commands the screen from go, but is not the vengeance obsessed Roland from the novels. At least initially, he is beaten and weary from the long fight. He is also not fixated on reaching the tower itself. This is another huge departure from the novels. No worries though, Roland gets into gear. The action picks up dramatically in the third act.
Roland uses Jake to his own means in the novels, but that is not the road the filmmakers take. The Dark Tower sets up a father, son relationship between Roland and Jake. This emotional bond is the core of the film; which will ostensibly follow through to the sequels. Elba and Taylor are believable in this dynamic. They are also quite humorous together. There a several moments of levity as Jake guides Roland through Keystone Earth. The hospital scene is a stand out.
The Dark Tower has a lean runtime of ninety-five minutes. There isn't much pussyfooting around. The film does not get into the weeds with detail, but there are loads of Easter Eggs for the initiated. If you know what The Horn of Eld is, have a blast looking for it. This is the nod and wink that the film gives to the zealous fans. There are things left unexplained that should have been. I know who The Crimson King is because I read the books. You wouldn't have a clue what that means from watching the movie. A few points are glossed over that needed more exposition.
From Sony Pictures, The Dark Tower is a moderately successful adaptation. It takes an ocean of information and pours it into a cup. That works for the beginning story. We learn about the significance of the tower, Roland, Jake, and The Man in Black. I view this film as the quick intro, the cornerstone to The Dark Tower. Diehard fans should appreciate that it needed to be made for the neophytes. If a wider audience likes this film, then the sequel will be more detailed and hardcore.