Based on Stephen King’s much-loved fantasy saga, The Dark Tower has been a long time coming. Originally developed by J.J. Abrams and passing through various directorial hands, it seemed many were reluctant to adapt this genre-hopping eight-book series, largely because of the sprawling breadth of the source material. Catering to all audiences was also going to be a tough ask, and in an interesting move, Danish director Nikolaj Arcel (here making an unenviable Hollywood debut) and the scriptwriters elected not to make a slavishly faithful page-to-screen adaptation. Instead, they chose to retool existing storylines into a sequel of sorts, ensuring that King novices wouldn’t be alienated and that existing fans could be surprised.
The story follows the troubled young Jake (Tom Taylor), who has nightmares about another world where life as we know it is on the brink of extinction. He learns that these aren’t nightmares but visions, as he “shines” (one of many nods to the King canon) and manages to cross over into another world. There, he joins the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), in order to protect the titular edifice, which is under threat from the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). Should the Dark Tower fall, all the other universes crumble with it, including Earth.
Clocking in at a shockingly slim 95 minutes, the result has its problems but there’s nonetheless some fun to be had, chiefly thanks to the breakneck pace and the cast. Elba is a terrific leading man and gets to show some finely honed comic timing, while McConaughey suavely conveys a sense of evil without chewing the scenery. As for Taylor, he is lumbered with both the age-old Chosen One trope and being the audience cypher, but credibly holds his own. Understandably, fans might be frustrated that King’s magnum opus wasn’t treated more faithfully, but they should be thanking their lucky stars this isn’t a Ghost in the Shell botch job. Rather,The Dark Tower is a crowd-pleasing effort that clearly needed more time and care, but certainly isn’t a convoluted and dull disaster on the same scale as other recent franchise-building blockbusters. Give us a sequel to the gunslinger’s adventures any day over future installments of The Mummy’s Dark Universe, or a follow-up to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
The Dark Tower | Directed by Nikolaj Arcel (US, 2017) with Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor. Starts August 10
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