When I finished watching Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief back in February 2010, I was crushed. One of my favorite books, The Lightning Thief, had come to the big screen in a big-budget live-action movie and it was terrible. In taking the source material to the screen, they’d make drastic alterations to the book, which isn’t inherently bad of course, but the changes they made here were just awful and somehow the execution of characters and plot details from the book were even worse. All those years of anticipation for a proper movie were answered by this trash heap of a feature film, one that seemed far more intent on kick-starting the next big fantasy movie franchise like Harry Potter than creating an actually good movie.
Though I haven’t read the various Dark Tower Stephen King has penned, I know they have a massive fanbase and I’m sure those fans who see this tedious film adaptation of their beloved books will feel the same way I did after witnessing the cinematic desecration of The Lightning Thief all those years ago. The Nikolaj Arcel feature film adaptation of The Dark Tower, unlike the fantasy books that apparently take place almost entirely in a mystical realm called Mid-World, centers on a young boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) that resides in a normal version of New York City. He keeps having these dreams of a Gunslinger and a Man In Black and everyone around him, including his mom, thinks he’s crazy thanks to these visions.
Turn out, though, that Jake is more accurate than his friends and family believe, there is, in fact, a Gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba) who has sworn vengeance upon The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) in the realm known as Mid-World. He travels to this domain by portal wherein he quickly meets up with Roland. While these two get acquainted, The Man In Black learns of Jake entering his world and decides to hunt him down. As for Jake and Roland, the first half of the movie, after centering way too much time on Jake’s home life, centers on them stumbling through the woods while the second half of the movie detours into the duo going to New York City where they try to stop The Man In Black once and for all.
This one, in case you can’t tell, has an incredibly scattered narrative that direly lacks propulsion. Once we get into the domain of Mid-World, you’d think there’d be some kind of goal Jake and Roland would be driving towards in the plot, but Roland just has this vague notion of revenge against The Man In Black that’s hard to get invested in while Jake has little to no personal connections to the realm of Mid-World. There’s no emotional grounding for these two’s journey and, even putting that crucial flaw aside, the time spent in Mid-World is a total snooze. A badly filmed run-in with a poorly designed monster, monotonous exposition, and actors walking around on cheap-looking sets make up this section of the movie.
But before we even get to Mid-World, we have to get to know Jake Chambers, our lead character for some reason. Jake is supposed to function as an audience surrogate character but he’s a totally dull lead character for this feature, he makes Agent John Myers from the first Hellboy movie look like Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element by comparison in terms of liveliness. I don’t like to rag on kid actors too much, but I will note that Tom Taylor’s line delivers are by and large flat and devoid of personality while the writing of the character is a hodgepodge of every trouble kid protagonist in existence. There are no real identifying traits to this character as he’s written yet Jake Chambers is very much supposed to be the glue that holds the entire movie together, a decision that does help to explain why the whole film turned out so lackluster.
Once he leaves his New York surroundings, Jake gets paired up with Roland whose played by Idris Elba, who is clearly trying as hard as he can to do something with this dreadful material he’s been handed. Elba easily makes Roland a convincing warrior character, I just wish the screenplay (which has four writers attached to it, one of whom is the infamous Akiva Goldsman) gave him something remotely interesting to do. The few times Roland gets to leap into action we just get some monotonously choreographed and generically filmed fight scenes and the second half of the movie, where Jake and Roland go to New York, has Elba playing a version of the Elf/Enchanted routine of a mystical person coming into contact with normal everyday human objects like sugar and hot dogs to supposed comedic effect. The gags are just as badly handled as Roland’s few action moments while the rest of the movie just has the character either moping or dropping badly written exposition. What a waste of Idris Elba.
Matthew McConaughey gets a little bit more to do as the baddie, including the one fun moment of the entire movie where The Man In Black surprises Jake’s parents when he gets home but otherwise his antagonist is just an overly powerful baddie whose motivations remain completely hazy. That obvious lack of effort put into defining both Roland and The Man In Black really does serve as an encapsulation of the laziness that suffocates The Dark Tower, it’s a movie that just can’t be bothered to do anything. We’ve got a plot that meanders, good actors (including Jackie Earl Haley in a throwaway role as an evil henchman) just looking tired while the subpar cinematography and camera work evoke thoughts of “penny-pinching” instead of thoughts of “fantasy adventure”. Let me put it this way; if Idris Elba as a cowboy is fighting Matthew McConaughey as basically scenery-chewing Satan, and I’m fighting to keep myself from taking a nap, something has gone seriously haywire. Come to think of it, the phrase “Something has gone seriously haywire” would also be a great encapsulation of the shockingly lazy movie The Dark Tower.