For those of you who think that I only follow “critical opinion” or whatever, you can leave your criticisms at my door, thank you. For this film in particular is not being received well by critics in the slightest (it currently holds a 19% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and looks to be continuing its downward trend) but… I liked it. I shouldn’t have, really. It’s ridiculous, it’s over-the-top, it’s cheesy and it’s super rushed (95 minutes… like… what?) but for all of its flaws, I did enjoy myself somewhat and thought it was at the very least – decent.
Let me take a stab at the plot. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is an adventurous dreamer who believes that all the visions he’s been having in his dreams are completely authentic. He sees the image of the Gunslinger (Idris Elba), a lone wolf type of character who is out for vengeance after Walter/The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) killed his father, Roland (Dennis Haysbert). When Jake’s parents decide to finally send him away to seek the psychiatric help they believe that he needs, it turns out that the ‘workers’ are actually minions of Walter’s there to collect Jake as part of Walter’s plot to collect children in order to use their minds to destroy a dark tower in a place called End-World. If he is able to destroy it, it will bring about the end of civilization and darkness will rule the world.
Apparently, these Dark Tower books are some of Stephen King’s strongest work but I can honestly say I have never read a single one (are you surprised?) and I probably never will in the future. As far as a stand-alone film goes though, one thing I worried about from the get-go was cramming so much movie into 95 minutes. That seemed very short for a film of this scope but lo and behold, for some strange reason I actually enjoyed most of it on a basic level. The plot may sound convoluted but director Nikolaj Arcel manages to widdle it down to the simplest of explanations, which is impressive for a sci-fi/fantasy book series that spanned seven volumes.
It helps to have a charismatic leading man like Idris Elba playing the Gunslinger. Elba is everything the character needs to be as he has the stoic weight of a leading man while also possessing a knack for subtle comedy when it’s necessary, specifically when he has his fish-out-of-water scenes in New York City. Matthew McConaughey is also a pretty enjoyable villain and you can really tell he had a blast chewing that scenery. McConaughey also makes for a very intimidating presence and the ridiculous amount of power he holds with his simple commands is terrifying. Some of the stuff Matthew does with those simple devastating commands is so good because it’s the material that he underplays most of the time. Honestly, outside of those two (even counting the kid Tom Taylor, who doesn’t do anything special but isn’t horrible), there aren’t really any other standout performances but they occupy most of the screen time anyway so it’s not a huge deal.
Another thing I thought I would end up hating is the repetitive CGI but I actually ended up liking it quite a bit. That all played well into the final sequence and big fight with Elba and McConaughey as well with the CGI never overpowering the actual intensity of the battle and rather enhancing it in a way. The effects are pretty impressive for this modestly-budgeted $60 million King adaptation but with the way things are going, it looks doubtful that the film will make any of that money back.
Sure, there are a lot of things that waste time (that whole subplot about Seers could have been completely excised) and some bits that just simply don’t work but for all of its faults, the movie still manages to be somewhat entertaining and build a coherent storyline from its parts. Colour me surprised; I enjoyed this one and I hope to enjoy the follow-up TV series as well.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)