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