The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the fans followed — across multiple release-date delays, at least one weekend of reshoots, and a disconcerting absence of evidence that a movie version of Stephen King’s series The Dark Tower actually existed. Just three months before the film’s presumably solid August 4 arrival, the trailer has finally crossed the chasm between our world and the editing bay at Sony Pictures. As expected, it plays up the battle between Matthew McConaughey’s villain, the Man in Black, and Idris Elba’s Gunslinger — who, as the trailer goes to great lengths to convey, seriously slings a gun.
The Dark Tower trailer sets up the premise (for this movie, and presumably a whole bunch more if it’s successful) for people who haven’t experienced King’s Western/sci-fi/fantasy series: There’s a multiverse propped up by a (Dark) Tower, which the black-clad Walter (McConaughey) is trying to topple. Opposing him are Roland (Elba), the last in a long line of gunslingers, and Jake, a kid from our world who Narnias into Roland’s. In the books, Jake’s transit isn’t so pleasant: He wakes up in Mid-World after McConaughey’s character kills him by shoving him into oncoming traffic in ’70s New York. Here, a more modern Jake just walks through a glowing hole in the wall.
In fairness to Sony, killing a kid in a trailer might not be the best way to win America’s heart. As is always the case with long-gestating adaptations, though, the fear for Dark Tower fans is that the series will lose its flavor in film form. The trailer doesn’t do much to defuse that fear; its 2.5 minutes are long on leaping, clever quick reloads, slow motion, and that Inception-style “BWONG!” sound. It’s also short on distinct atmosphere and bonding between Jake and Roland, two of the books’ more appealing qualities. Aside from a few shots of the two trudging through deserted landscapes, we don’t get a great sense of the gothic disorder of Roland’s surroundings or the unending nature of his ancient pursuit of the Man in Black. The most convincing hellscape here is Times Square.
The evil, costumed McConaughey may elicit some amount of eye-rolling, although it’s a thrill hearing Roland recite the Gunslinger’s Creed, even if this is the first time you’ve heard it. But the trailer’s stereotypical percussion sounds and dramatic movie score only emphasize its standard action/superhero vibe, imparting the impression that this is yet another brooding CGI spectacle in which Manhattan hangs in the balance. There’s nothing less relatable than a book reader whining about a movie’s omissions and alterations; movies aren’t made solely for fans of the source material, and a winding, eight-book epic isn’t easy to port to the screen without performing some story surgery. But based on the trailer’s reliance on firefights, Roland’s badass duster will have to do a lot of work.
We won’t know for a few months whether the trailer lacks a strong sense of self because Sony chose to distill a deeper movie into its most marketable and easily digestible elements or because director Nikolaj Arcel has a superficial feel for the franchise. As a fan of the series, I’ve been trying to stay optimistic about the movie even though indicators of a dud abound. The trailer doesn’t destroy the dream of a fully realized Dark Tower, but it does erode that fraying hope further.
On the plus side, The Dark Tower appears to be real. The downside is that it doesn’t immediately stand out from most summer-movie fare. Go then, the trailer seems to say. There are other action movies than this.