In a perfect world, The Dark Tower would exist as the beginning of a well-deserved blockbuster run for Idris Elba. Elba plays the gruffly heroic Roland Deschain in the Nikolaj Arcel film, adapted from the series of novels by Stephen King. Roland is the last in the line of Gunslingers, making him an expert with any kind of gun, and Elba is more than able to communicate this kind of weighty power with few words. The good news about The Dark Tower is that Elba is the best thing in the film. The bad news about The Dark Tower is that Elba is the only good thing in the film; even with a relatively modest $60 million budget, it’s easy to imagine this potential film series stopping after this entry and proceeding no further, further halting Elba’s journey to becoming a summer mainstay like Chris Pratt or Robert Downey Jr.
Since his breakout role as Stringer Bell on HBO’s brilliant early drama The Wire, Elba has been appearing in various films over the last decade that could have broken big. Some of his parts, while supporting roles, have been in major franchises, such as Heimdall in the Thor series (including Avengers: Age of Ultron and the upcoming Ragnarok). And last year alone, Elba made a killing in three separate Disney-released films in voice roles: as Chief Bogo in Zootopia, the terrifying Shere Khan in The Jungle Book and a prankish sea lion in Finding Dory. Later this year, Elba will get to play opposite an equally great performer, Kate Winslet, in The Mountain Between Us, hopefully allowing him to flex his dramatic muscles in a nonfranchise scenario. But The Dark Tower is meant to function as his entry into the world of action stars.
On paper, Roland Deschain could be as memorable a hero as Indiana Jones for an actor to play; it’s easy to understand why A-listers like Russell Crowe and Javier Bardem hovered over the role in the past. Elba embodies Roland and lives up to the Gunslinger’s creed perfectly. Whatever else is going on around him in The Dark Tower, Elba is a fierce and focused presence, imbuing the character with the appropriate balance of pathos and roughness. Moreover, in the climactic battle, it’s almost surprising how easily he out-charms and outclasses Matthew McConaughey, who plays the villainous Man in Black. (Arguably, part of this is because McConaughey’s work feels weirdly sleepy.) But right now, it doesn’t seem like The Dark Tower is going to break out at the box office, in spite of opening at the beginning of the slow month of August. Whether or not it becomes a surprise smash or fairs better overseas, let’s hope the industry will still realize that Elba deserves more big starring roles.
On a positive note, in November’s Molly’s Game, Elba will get to continue to show off his range (see: his fearsome Commandant in Beasts of No Nation, his villain work in Star Trek Beyond and his turn as the jocular pilot in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus). Buzz on the film is strong, and it’s written and directed by the verbose Aaron Sorkin; it’ll be fascinating to see how Elba plays opposite Jessica Chastain in the real-life-based drama.
Elba, by rights, should already be a star, toplining other big-budget blockbusters. The Dark Tower is supposed to be a big jump, and hopefully it will at least land him higher in Hollywood than a previous action-heavy adaptation, The Losers. That 2010 DC adaptation felt like it wanted to be a springboard for its cast, but only ended up that way coincidentally. (A year later, one of its stars, Chris Evans, would become Captain America.) On the one hand, it’s genuinely thrilling to watch The Dark Tower and realize that Elba fits exceedingly well into the role of action hero. On the other hand, it’s frustrating that the film squanders his talent and charm by being so lifeless and dull. Elba deserves to be a big star, and he probably should’ve reached that level of fame a few years ago. He deserves a role like Roland Deschain, but The Dark Tower doesn’t deserve an actor like him.
Stay tuned to Heat Vision for much more from The Dark Tower this weekend.