The Dark Tower film review: Even Idris Elba can't save this lacklustre Stephen King adaptation

James Luxford
The Dark Tower

There are stories that are just too big for cinema, and that may be the case for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. This film version, which is based on a series of books that both obliquely and explicitly reference the author’s other works, spent years in development hell.

It sees Idris Elba saddle up as The Gunslinger, the subject of feverish visions plaguing young New Yorker Jake (Tom Taylor). Travelling to another world, Jake learns he is the key to prevent the villainous Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) from destroying a Dark Tower that guards reality from horrific monsters.

How do you squeeze thirty years’ worth of mythology into one fairly short (90-ish minutes) movie? The Dark Tower’s answer is throw everything in and hope people can discern the odd bit of sense from the resulting chaos. Anyone turning up to see Luther play a cowboy will be utterly baffled, with only the narrative bare-essentials being explained. Meanwhile, King fans will be livid that so little of the novels made it in, even if this is meant to be a taster for a TV/movie universe. It tries to serve everyone and ends up pleasing no one.

Despite all this, Elba rises above to become the film’s saving grace. Looking and sounding every inch the Old West Hero, he commits completely and makes his portion of proceedings work. Taylor, who feels like a lost character from Stranger Things, also manages to give things a little heart. McConaughey is probably the biggest casualty, edited down to a sort-of-demon whose motives aren’t entirely clear, and who looks vaguely ridiculous.

The Dark Tower is a massive waste of source material, requiring a far bigger canvas to do it justice. Even in the often dodgy sub-genre of Stephen King adaptations, this has to go down as one of the biggest head scratchers.

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