Synopsis: Idris Elba and his Dark Tower stand in the way of Matthew McConaughey’s quest to take over the universe.
A big Stephen King movie came out last weekend, but I don’t do clowns so I went to see The Dark Tower instead. I don’t have much experience with his books and with the exception of Carrie, Shawshank, and The Shining, I’m a novice in the adaptations of his works. I’m a total pro on action movies though. To keep it short and sweet, a young boy has visions/nightmares of Wizard/Sorcerer/Voldemort McConaughey trying to take over the universe and slaughtering people; the boy seeks out Elba’s Roland, the universe’s last standing gunslinger, who he believes is the last hope to save the Dark Tower aka the thing standing between the universe and endless hell.
The Dark Tower is, first and foremost, a good action movie with some fantasy thrown in and a dash of drama. I would categorize The Dark Tower under “easily digestible”- there’s not a whole lot of plot holes to distract me, the action is good, solid and quality art direction, and Elba does a damn fine job of holding the entire movie together as a sensitive and tough anti-hero. I walked out of the theater feeling like I saw a really good, well thought out action movie. Then I let it sit and thought, “Wait, I’m measuring this with my Antoine-Fuqua-Meter” and that changed my perspective.
If I’m measuring with my Antoine-Fuqua-Meter, The Dark Tower gets an A. It’s a dumb action movie with substance and style! But If I’m measuring with my Christopher-Nolan-Summer-Blockbuster-Meter, this movie gets a C, because it tries to be something more than an action movie but fails. I can’t give it the “so bad it’s good” or “good based on action” rating I gave The Magnificent Seven because The Dark Tower sets out to be taken seriously and presents themes higher than GUNS. Like on the scale of Inception to Hellboy to Legend of the Sword, I would rank this somewhere between the latter two, probably closer to Hellboy. And it’s not “bad” in like a “Holy fuck, close your eyes, this is a sin against cinema” sense (oh, there are so many worse movies)- there’s just a lot to be desired.
For starters, more time. I know nothing about the source material, but I know 1.5 hours is way way way too short for any movie that wants to be taken seriously, let alone a Stephen King adaptation. Works that fall under this time are typically kids’ animated pieces or McGuffin-filled, straight-to-Netflix action movies. The Dark Tower has a lot of potential to be more than the latter but the pacing just doesn’t give it enough time to do so. The beginning starts off very strong establishment of Elba and McConaughey’s rivalry; however, when we get to the character of Jake Chambers, everything speeds up. There are several scenes I thought, “It would have been nice if this scene was longer” or “This is a great scene” but unfortunately the moments slip away too quickly before they can resonate and McConaughey becomes a caricature of his own Lincoln commercials. It’s like the television cut of the already rushed Serenity– there are some brilliant lines missing, we don’t get enough of our favorite characters, and it’s all very “let’s move it along, guys.” As a result, it’s rushed, confused, and unfocused.
The void of a bigger, meatier movie is felt from beginning to end. What kills me about The Dark Tower is that it easily has all the elements to be a solid, smart action movie on the level of Inception or even The Matrix– something deeper and bigger than gunfights and explosions, using violence and action with reason. The production value of the costumes, sets, and CG show there was definitely investment in the project. McConaughey and Elba have a rivalry with an emotional pull and are interesting right from the beginning. I’m not sure if it was something behind the camera or, like, the director’s cut was really awful, or if something like the Suicide Squad happened, but given all the good stuff on paper- something had to have happened to make the studio cut the time down to 1.5 hours. This is really a shame, because Elba does an exceptional job with the little he was given of Roland- he gives the character lots of conflict and depth, he’s a great fish out of water on Keystone Earth, and he conveys a lot without talking. The movie’s central relationship between Roland and Jake gets screen time and it’s acted well, but it doesn’t feel as full as it should. There are so many fantastic presentations of the themes of masculinity, fatherhood, and homosocial relationships but instead of sinking into these, the movie just skitters over them. The scale and the weight of the material are present but it all doesn’t have enough time to really push the emotional boundaries it set up for itself.
I wish I could turn on the full Antoine-Fuqua-Meter for this one because The Dark Tower isn’t nearly the mess everyone has made it out to be- the action sequences are fun with some intricate handiwork, the cast makes more of the characters than what the script calls for, and there are some very poignant scenes. However, since I feel like the movie wants to be held to a higher standard, I have to bring in my Nolan standards- so a B-, but in a bad way! Oh, the agony!