There's so much wrong with The Dark Tower. The decision to forego a straight adaptation, Goldsman and Arcel taking advantage of a time-traveling loophole to write "sequel" that can play fast and loose with bits from every book, is a plan that serves no one. In The Dark Tower, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is now the main character, a YA stock hero -- or slightly more damning, a "Mary Sue" fanboy who spends his days drawing pictures of Roland the Gunslinger -- experiences his own Last Action Hero, courtesy of portals from another pocket of spacetime. The movie keeps King's idea that there are, beyond our Earthly realm, other planes of existence. We glimpse Mid-World, a land with two moons, decrepit amusement park structures from a time long ago, high-tech weaponry manned by rat creatures, and where Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) chases The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) out of revenge for the death of his father.
The movie isn't interested in spending time in this alternate reality -- the movie's only 90-minutes and most of the conflict happens in Jake's hometown of New York City -- but the splashes we see are faithful to King's vision. But circumstance whisks Jake to Mid-World, then he and Roland back to Earth, in a rapid series of events without any weight. Fans will pick up on loads of references and insinuations: we see the Crimson King's eye, Maerlyn's Rainbow (with The Man in Black wielding the Pink Bend), the "wolves" of Calla, the dogans, monsters from the Todash space, the can-toi, the Sombra Corporation, and even a subtle nod to Blaine the Mono. Non-fans may wonder why anything is happening for any reason at all (especially why McConaughey's MiB loves chicken so much). We've all seen enough movies to know why a kid with "the Shine" needs to go to the place and do the thing and why the hero needs to shoot his way through faceless goons to get the kid to the place to do the thing. That's enough for the movie, which treats the books like paperbacks to be flipped through and glanced at. The minute The Dark Tower starts, it wants to be over; It's embarrassed to be in front of us.
And yet, Arcel's choices are filled with promise. Elba is the perfect Roland, gruff, earnest, and a hell of a hero when he's "killing with his heart." McConaughey is a charismatic ham who you wish could sit opposite of Elba in a desert somewhere just speaking epic speak on the myth of The Dark Tower. Instead he chases Jake and repeatedly uses his signature move, a "stop breathing" magic trick that causes instant suffocation -- sure, fine. The Dark Tower is another entry into the muddy, dimly lit action canon (a genre forged by the Underworld series), but the occasional brush with Mid-World culture and landscape see someone behind the camera giving somewhat of a damn about the potential of this property. The parts are there. The execution is a total drag.
Even King devotees who picked up The Gunslinger in 1982, but ultimately gave up The Dark Tower over the years, acknowledge the book's opening line as iconic: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." The Dark Tower movie can't bring that image to life. It can't bring any image to life. The joy of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings was tableau, not fan service, an eye for J.R.R. Tolkien's work where four hobbits hiding from a Nazgûl resonates as hard with the everyday moviegoer as a close-up of The One Ring or a sweeping shot at the Battle of Helm's Deep. A visionary could treat The Dark Tower with the same care. This time around? No. Eventually? It's hard to imagine King's series being the one property that doesn't earn a Hollywood reboot. It may not even need one.