THE Dark Tower hasn't had an easy journey to screen.
Its release has been burdened by fairly damning reports of a troubled production and disastrous test screenings, which already put a cloud over the Stephen King adaptation, in a summer that has set its buzz already worryingly low.
With the books series' expansive universe already having crossed the desks of Ron Howard and J.J. Abrams alike, Sony Pictures eventually took on the task of telling the story of the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and his eternal battle with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) to prevent him from destroying the Tower, which holds the entire universe together.
More bad news, however, as the first reviews that have trickled out present the film as a dull disappointment without any set audience: incomprehensible to newbies, and wildly unfaithful and simplistic to fans of King's books.
Here's what the critics thought:
It aims low and hits (sort of). It's a competent and watchable paranoid metaphysical video game that doesn't overstay its welcome, includes some luridly entertaining visual effects, and - it has to be said - summons an emotional impact of close to zero. Which in a film like this one isn't necessarily a disadvantage.
Though far from the muddled train wreck we've been led to expect, this Tower lacks the world-constructing gravitas of either the Tolkien books that inspired King or the franchise-launching movies that Sony execs surely have in mind. Though satisfying enough to please many casual moviegoers drawn in by King's name and stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it will likely disappoint many serious fans and leave other newbies underwhelmed.
The Dark Tower isn't really a movie for people who've never read Stephen King's Dark Tower books. It hardly bothers to serve up any exposition, so newbies are thrown right into the deep end of its convoluted mythology.
But it's probably not for people who have read the books, either. The movie version is disappointingly lacking in the magic of King's novels. (The metaphorical, literary kind of magic, I mean - there's still plenty of magic in the plot, which the characters talk about constantly.)
That, in fact, is the biggest challenge in adapting something as expansive and genre-bending as The Dark Tower: how do you make it stand out from all the other sci-fi and fantasy franchises that indirectly owe their existence to it?
In this area, the movie has a difficult time setting itself apart; despite all the Stephen King easter eggs, at times it feels more like somebody took the Western-futuristic aesthetic of Firefly, blended it together with the sorcery and demons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and slapped some Stargates in for good measure.
The Dark Tower is so astoundingly awful that when you leave the theater you'll likely be less mad you wasted your time than flabbergasted that something like this could a) happen and b) be released as something that, theoretically, is going to launch a multi-platform franchise.
And while this all sounds fantastical and mind-bending, The Dark Tower is startlingly low on both energy or any larger sense of magic or a wider world beyond whatever Jake is able to experience.
While Elba and Taylor make a fine match, and the film picks up tremendous steam once they're paired together, the script's aim to keep things as lean and tight as possible mean they're forced to rush through a complex story that deserves much more than a time-strapped take that gets significantly less interesting as it goes along.
The Dark Tower opens nationally tomorrow.
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