REVIEW: “The Dark Tower”

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For ten years a movie adaptation of Stephen King’s wildly popular “Dark Tower” series of novels has been in the works. An impressive carousel of big names have been linked to the project – directors J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard; actors Javier Bardem, Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, and Viggo Mortensen. But script issues and studio apprehension kept the project on the shelf.

That was until struggling Sony Pictures greenlit the project. More script rewrites were done (rarely a good sign) and Nikolaj Arcel was handed the directing reins. Things looked up with the casting of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. As it turns out “The Dark Tower” needed a lot more than star power to make it worth the wait.

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As someone who hasn’t read the novels I expected there to be a lot I wouldn’t get. Turns out I was right. The screenwriting team attempts to make sense of things for know-nothings like me, but their efforts range from clunky to nonsensical. For what it’s worth we get some (not all that interesting) exposition which explains things a bit. Other times we get transitions and gaps that make no sense whatsoever. But in retrospect I’m not sure understanding this particular story would cure its ills.

From what I can understand the film is intended to be a direct sequel to the novels. It spans two ‘worlds’ – ours, which is mainly depicted by modern day New York, and Mid-World, a sci-fi Wild West-like parallel universe. It’s there that we meet a Gunslinger named Roland (Elba), the villainous Man in Black (McConaughey), and the mysterious Dark Tower – a structure set in the center of the universe that could end both worlds if destroyed. Elba is the protector, McConaughey wants to destroy it, and so on.

In New York a young boy (Tom Taylor) has visions of Mid-World and the looming threat of the tower’s destruction. He’s chased by monsters working for the Man in Black until he finds a portal to Mid-World where he meets up with Roland. He shares his visions and the two try to foil the Man in Black’s plans.

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The film is rich with all sorts of goofy concoctions. There are creatures with fake human skin masquerading as New Yorkers. There is a massive weapon powered by psychic children. I could go on. That kind of silliness could be a bit more digestible if the movie didn’t take it all so seriously. Sure, there are a handful of attempts at humor, but not enough to overtake the serious tone. It doesn’t make this unwatchable, but it consistently fed my feeelings of disappointment.

There are moments of McConaughey doing McConaughey which can be kind of amusing, but ultimately he seems miscast. It doesn’t help that his character is nothing short of dreadful. Elba is good with what little he’s given and you could say he is a reminder of the potential this film had. I would like to see him again in this role with a substantially smarter, less convoluted story and more focused direction. I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking. I can’t imagine another movie in this planned franchise seeing the light of day.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

2-stars

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21 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Dark Tower”

  1. Nice review Keith. As a huge Stephen King and Dark Tower fan, I found the movie to be a giant misfire. This adaptation misses all of the heart and soul of the books, as well as the darker themes, in favor for some YA fare. Check out the book series, it’s fantastically addictive and not at all like the film.

    • I truly felt that. From the very outset I could tell they weren’t doing the books justice. I’ve heard too many good things about them over the years. I think if I was a fan of the novels by feelings against this movie would have been even stronger.

    • It’s always unfortunate when an audience can tell (without ever reading the novels) that a film missed the original author’s intentions. And as Keith pointed out, it doesn’t bode well for a sequel. The goal should’ve been to get people so fascinated with this world that they sought out the novels afterwards. Missed opportunity for sure.

  2. Great review (as usual). Definitely agree with you about this movie. The Dark Tower definitely had the potential, but beyond the two lead roles, the rest of the film was pretty “blah” and generic. So, disappointed, especially since its source material was from Stephen King.

    • Thanks so much. Oh man, the potential is littered everywhere in this film. You can see and sense it. But they completely bury it. It felt so pasted together and there isn’t anything about it that stands out as original or innovation. It’s just…blah.

  3. I had hoped for Elba in particular that the movie would do well. He’s still underrated I think. Have you seen The Mountain Between Us yet? Critics haven’t been very kind to that one either (though much like this film the issues don’t necessarily seem to stem from Elba’s performance). Great review as per usual Keith!

    • I agree. I think Elba is underrated. He should have won an Oscar for Beasts of No Nation. He’s the strongest part of The Dark Tower. It’s such a shame he wasn’t given much to work with or around. He’s so good.

  4. I’m a huge Stephan King fan, but I usually stick to his books rather than motion picture adaptations. I think that in King’s case, leaving things for the imagination does the trick a whole lot better than actually watching them. Great review and I think I’ll take your word for it and sit this one out for now 😉

    • Good idea. This thing is surprisingly bland. It’s the last thing I expected with Elba and MM as the stars. As for King adaptations, I have a review going up later today of one I love. But as a whole, I think most of his brand of horror/suspense works best on the page.

  5. b.t.w, I just finished reading Stephan King’s Joyland. It a bit meh, nothing more. I think it had so much more potential of being super creepy and mysterious. I mean, a theme park with murderous stories?

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