Rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action
Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Nikolaj Arcel, based on the novels by Stephen King
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley, Claudia Kim and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
The film version of "Dark Tower" is infinitely more coherent than the books, though whether that's a good or bad thing depends on you.
The movie, which follows a kid and mystical gunslinger across dimensions as they try to stop a mysterious villain from destroying everything, feels more like a Stephen King movie than it does a fantasy film. Though fans of the books are likely to peg it as too simplistic, for the rest of us it's a dark, satisfying film bolstered by its two leads.
Both King and director Nikolaj Arcel say the movie is a sequel to the book series, rather than a remake of the first film (if you've read to the end of the series, you know the plot spoiler that makes this comment make sense. If you don't, none of this information will affect your enjoyment of the movie in the slightest.) The story follows Jake Chambers, a young teen played by Tom Taylor, who keeps having visions of an evil Matthew McConaughey kidnapping kids to use their psychic powers to take down a big tower that protects the multiverse. Everyone thinks he's crazy, but the audience all knows he isn't – he's in a Stephen King movie, after all, and a gunslinger from another dimension will show up at some point.
As I said before, though, this isn't really a fantasy. There are plenty of deaths, sometimes of very nice people, and despite the dramatic differences in plot King's usual preoccupations with psychic kids, fatherlessness, and the nature of evil are in full force. He may not have written the script, but the movie has his fingerprints all over it.
It also makes a lot more sense than the books do. The movie explains all you need to know in order to follow it, and the quest structure is both clear and easy to follow. The details sprinkled throughout are intriguing, enough that I wish it was a half hour longer in order to flesh out some of this more.
Most importantly, it has a set of excellent leads. Idris Elba is absolutely magnetic as Roland the Gunslinger, bringing an immense amount of shade and nuance to the character. You can see the hero he once was, and believe in the darkness he carries in his heart now. Taylor carries off all the twitchy, earnest goodness required for Jake, keeping him grounded and human no matter what dimension he's in or what he's doing.
In the end, it's an interesting journey that won't make you get lost.