This fantasy “epic” is based on a popular Stephen King series. It lasts 90 minutes on screen and it’s not worth the money – or commute time – to see it in the theater.

If you never read The Dark Tower book series, the good news is that does not matter as the film deviates wildly from the focus of books. The bad news is that the screenplay written by four (!) writers (Akiva Goldman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel) would have benefited had it stayed closer to King’s story.

There are three main characters in the film: Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger (played by Idris Elba), who is the conflicted hero; the Man in Black (played by Matthew McConaughey), an evil “sorcerer” trying to bring about the apocalypse; and a kid, Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor from FX’s Taboo). All three actors are better than this film deserves.

Most epic science fiction or fantasy movies that fail fall apart in the third act. Not here. The Dark Tower has a chaotic horror-movie-like first act and a senseless mystery/thriller second act. The third act, believe it or not, is actually better and more coherent than what came before, even if it comes off as a disjointed super hero origin story.

But it’s not enough to save the film from itself.

Either way, it’s too bad the people who made the trailer, which does have a coherent story arc, didn’t make the rest of this movie.

Either the director was out of his depth or the producers stepped in, overrode the director, and re-edited the film after poor test screenings. It really does not matter; what we got is not a horrible film; it’s just not a good film.

Before the film’s action begins, white text flashes on the screen, just a couple of sentences. It’s never a good sign when a movie’s run time is less than two hours and it starts with a few prequel frames to try to explain the story to the audience before the film starts. There is a rule in fiction – one, ironically, that Stephen King has mastered – show the story, don’t tell the story.

Part of this film’s fatal flaw is the plot for a good third of the film did not match up with the narrative of the story. It was a mess. Don’t blame the actors. They showed up and did their jobs.

McConaughey chews up scenery with aplomb as a ruthlessly evil man. He was astonishingly good at being chillingly bad. Likewise, Elba’s turn as a cliche worn-down hero looking for redemption through rediscovering his faith is spot on, for what he had to work with. And young Tom Taylor has that rare ability to draw an audience into his performance.

Of the supporting cast, Jackie Earle Haley and Fran Kranz make throw-away parts memorable.

The actors are probably as disappointed with the final cut. When the director takes a writing credit, it’s a sign the filmed product deviated significantly from the script that made the actors sign on to the project.

Again, the biggest problem with this film is the plot. It drags during the action scenes and it passes by too quickly in the narrative scenes. It feels like there was a 150 minute movie here that was edited down to 90 minutes to emphasize the plot’s action at the expense of the story. The disconnect from the narrative of the story is inexcusable.

This is a Stephen King film. It exists because of the story. People will go see this film because of the story.

Of Note: The treatment of female characters

Every single woman’s part was written for one of the following purposes:

  • She exists solely to act as motivation of a male character with no character development of her own, and
  • She is there to be abused/killed, or
  • She is a mother figure for a male character, or
  • She is an unthinking, hysterical damsel in distress.

Needless to say, The Dark Tower does not pass the Bechdel test.

Perhaps it would have been a better TV show, which could allow a more in-depth exploration of character and story arc. According to IMDB, it appears the studio has the same thought.

2.1 out of 5 stars.