Earlier this week you read Tracy’s Dark Tower movie review. As a fan of Stephen King’s genre-splicing book series she was very disappointed in the adaptation. But what is The Dark Tower like for the franchise “uninitiated”? If you approach the Fantasy Sci-fi Western fresh, ignorant of its source material and sans expectation, how does it fare as a cinema outing? The answer is still “pretty damn terrible.”

I went into The Dark Tower largely clueless. I knew that the novel series was a departure for Horror-master King, and that it earned him a whole new army of rabid devotees. The Dark Tower had to be something special. Then I watched the movie trailer.

I couldn’t believe that this was the source of all the fuss. In its preview, the Dark Tower looked like any other power fantasy for adolescent boys. Think Nicolas Cage’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Or Jackie Chan’s The Forbidden Kingdom. Every year or so there’s at least one of these movies, where a misfit kid/teen (usually male) discovers he’s the Chosen One, gets paired with a badass loner hero and heads off-world to have mystical, magical adventures in the process of saving the universe. This year we’ve already had Enter the Warriors Gate as another example.

But, hey, maybe the Dark Tower trailer was just a poor marketing choice. Perhaps the series’ appeal would make sense once I watched the full 95 minutes (huh, is that all?) of movie? Nope. I’m sad to say that all The Dark Tower has done is put me off reading the books. What I saw was so lacklustre and derivative that I can’t imagine summoning the energy to plough through 4000+ pages to experience the “proper” story.

I’m still in a state of disbelief that such behind-the-scenes talent – like Oscar-winning filmmakers Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman, working with Stephen King’s magnum opus – can produce a movie where the Great Threat is trite “darkness and fire,” and characters utter cringe-inducing lines like “Let the pain flow through you.” I can’t accept that the creatively bankrupt Dark Tower film was made for anyone but uncritical 11 year olds, chewing open-mouthed on a tub of popcorn when not looking away from the screen to Snapchat with their friends.

To be fair, The Dark Tower isn’t a complete disaster. Technically, it’s solid, it has an unnerving opening sequence, and it’s fun to play Spot the South Africans as the film’s Mid-World scenes were shot locally. Young Tom Taylor could have been irritating as lead character Jake, but he’s in fact quite likeable – portraying Jake as wide-eyed but never wimpy. Meanwhile, Idris Elba is absolutely the best thing about the film. His Gunslinger is a solemn figure, but just the right amount of warmth and vulnerability shine through his grim exterior. Elba also handles the character’s (too few) “fish out of water” scenes with deadpan charm. Look out for a scene involving hotdogs.

Out of interest, why revolver-wielding Gunslingers are so important in this universe is never clarified in the movie. It’s one of the film’s unanswered questions. This said, I didn’t find The Dark Tower incomprehensible and exclusionary to newcomers, as some reviewers have complained. The simplistic plot made sense in the same way a fairy tale’s story is weakly sketched.

Mostly, though, I just found myself circling back to the shocked realisation that The Dark Tower is so lazy and soullessly made. The source material probably isn’t jaunty, but the film is completely devoid of spirit. For example, Matthew McConaughey‘s evil sorcerer demonstrates the same chilling mind-control abilities as Kilgrave from Jessica Jones. Like David Tenant in the Netflix series, McConaughey could have embraced the malice of his character; making The Man in Black someone the audience loves to hate. Instead, McConaughey just appears disinterested. Entertainment offered to the audience instead takes the form of gun kata, and clunky, spotlighted references to The Shining, Cujo and It. Never have easter eggs been so rotten.

Perhaps if you have low demands of your movie entertainment, The Dark Tower will be enough for you. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Stephen King’s novel series, though, I expect you’ll find yourself mentally switching off. Instead of being a complex, meaty genre-blender, The Dark Tower is a prime example of “seen it a hundred times before” cinema. Clueless about the books or not, you’ll recognise it as a waste of time, effort and potential.

Last Updated: September 6, 2017

The Dark Tower
Although not unwatchable, The Dark Tower is shockingly unoriginal, and lazy filmmaking. It does a lot to dissuade newcomers to the franchise from delving into the source material. Unless, of course, they’re morbidly curious as to how badly the movie got it wrong.
3.5

11 Comments

  1. Peet Luckhoff

    September 6, 2017 at 12:15

    Still going to watch it…

    Reply

  2. Magoo

    September 6, 2017 at 12:28

    McConaughey should never play a flat-out antagonist ever again. There is too much charm in his method.

    Reply

  3. For the Emperor!

    September 6, 2017 at 12:56

    The trailer didn’t set my world on fire, but it did intrigue me. I will catch it some day, but it is not a priority even before these reviews.

    Reply

  4. Kervyn Cloete

    September 6, 2017 at 13:33

    Just to add my 2c into the mix (as somebody who’s read the books, but is not an obsessed fanboy), there are aspects of this I actually really like. Like mentioned before Idris Elba is the biggest drawcard, but Tom Taylor is also great as Jake. Also while tonally very inappropriate for the movie, director Nikolaj Arcel’s flair with the gunplay makes me believe that he could do well on an action movie where he could just John Woo it up.

    The amount of screentime occupied by local actors is also impressive. They actually have way more than the bulk of the international cast.

    I actually also really dug Katherine Winnick as Jake’s mom. It’s a tiny role, but one I was anticipating. She was a favourite of mine in Vikings as Lagertha, but I wanted to see her in something where she wasn’t so damn serious all the time. Here she got that and it worked. There’s a nice relationship between her and Jake.

    But all of that being said, the script is an utter mess. Book readers will feel insulted by how this epic story has been stripped away to make it a generic children’s fantasy, while non-book readers will have be left with massive gaps in the narrative as things just aren’t explained at all.

    The movie’s short running time is also ridiculous. Just when you think you’ve actually gotten through the first act, you’re somehow already thrown at an utterly silly final battle again that may just have you losing all respect for Matthew McConaughey. The Man In Black is supposed to be evil incarnate, not the joke he ends up looking like.

    Reply

    • EyeGodZA

      September 6, 2017 at 14:42

      Staying as far the fuck away from this as humanly possible. What a disappointment. It had so much potential. Truly they forgot the faces of their fathers.

      Reply

      • Peet Luckhoff

        September 7, 2017 at 09:00

        Not upvoting you for staying away, upvoting you for the face forgetting 🙂

        Reply

      • Miss T

        September 7, 2017 at 11:21

        Amen

        Reply

  5. Original Heretic

    September 7, 2017 at 10:20

    This should have been a series. It would have kicked ass as a series. Forget the Wizard and Glass adaptation focusing on the young Roland, that could be done as a spin-off.
    Still keeping it as a sequel to the books would have been awesome, thus appealing to book fans and newcomers alike.
    I’m freakin’ astounded they didn’t bother to do it properly. And more than mildly disgusted.

    Reply

    • Miss T

      September 7, 2017 at 11:22

      I agree – the source material is perfect for a mini series. – I feel like it has every potential to be an epic in a similar way that GoT is but it probably wont ever be realized now. What a shame.

      Reply

  6. Joe Vaish

    September 7, 2017 at 21:18

    “I’m still in a state of disbelief that such behind-the-scenes talent – like Oscar-winning filmmakers Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman, working with Stephen King’s magnum opus – can produce a movie where the Great Threat is trite “darkness and fire”

    Wow, you have not been paying attention at all. Any time I hear the name “Akiva Goldsman” I know it’s going to be terrible.

    Reply

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