Review: The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower, after years of various problems getting onto the silver screen, is finally here. With Stephen King’s daunting lore to adapt, and a journey that would have to span several films, this was going to take a ton of skill to pull off. It is with great pain that I say it unfortunately may go down as one of the largest disappointments in pop culture history. The Dark Tower film, with tons of greatness to mine from, is the complete opposite of the enchanting books. The movie is lifeless and uninviting, a complete disrespect to two epic quests: the book’s fantastical quest and the seemingly eternal quest it took to make it to theaters. Fans have wanted a live action version of these beloved characters for quite some time and their patience has been rewarded with a cold product that only kind of looks and sounds like The Dark Tower.
Tons of references from all seven books are just slammed into a bland PG-13 ride that plays like some quick turnaround 1990s Dimension Films fare. Easter Eggs are littered throughout the film, referencing King’s work and The Dark Tower books (bullshit film studio in the opening credits was a nice touch), but they are hollow nods on a lifeless craft, songs wasted on a bored audience. Having read and been a fan of the Tower books kept me in tune at all times but, even then, it was a chore to sit through and I can only imagine how complete strangers to this world will react to such a funky portrayal of such a great thing.
The Dark Tower is about two main things: revenge and protection. Revenge in the form of our lead character in the series, Roland Deschain, a mystical gunslinger, hunting down the wily Man in Black, a sorcerer with many names who has plagued Roland and his family for far too long. The theme of protection is, of course, about the Tower itself. In these stories, all universes and worlds are held up by the Tower and if it falls all reality ceases to exist and darkness conquers all corners of existence. Easy setup, but pulling it off is another thing entirely. This movie, if it can be called that, uses revenge and protection as its foundation to start the story but then decides to hit us with bits and pieces of the other books, completely throwing off any form of balance the franchise hopes to achieve. Like going on a marathon, only you break both ankles on your first two steps.
On paper, Matthew McConaughey is an incredible choice to play one of King’s most potent villains but here Matthew is wasted, turing in an extremely forgettable and at often times laughable performance. Here is a centuries old character that can walk in and out of multiple timelines reduced to a guy that looks like he sells Ecstasy in discotheques across the Ukraine. His delivery is so damn smarmy, making him completely unintimidating in every way. Idris Elba is an inspired choice for Roland Deschain and if there is a ray of sunshine in this debacle it is most certainly him. He looks incredible and projects the haunted and seemingly cursed quality Roland has throughout the series. His handling of his signature guns, even when aided by CG to sell his supernatural prowess, is very well done and seems to be the only things they took a ton of effort to nail.
Young actor Tom Taylor plays Jake Chambers, a boy who has visions of the Tower and of Roland’s journey. Jake is very important in the Dark Tower stories and Tom Taylor does a rather fair job but is constantly beat down by the bad film around him. Both he and Idris suffer the most here because these are the two main characters that have an important father-son dynamic in the books and we never see that fully develop in this film. One or two scenes try to convey this but fall extremely flat. This movie fails so many decent actors because they have absolutely nothing to work with. Jackie Earle Haley shows up and is squandered on a mere henchman role. Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road, Gods of Egypt) and Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods) play lackeys who aide the Man in Black by telling him about portal activity while walking around an uninspired set, pushing buttons and moving dials. A total waste. Dennis Haysbert is actually an inspired choice to play Roland’s father but, like everyone else here, never gets to shine in this extremely rushed project. All the actors in this piece are anchored down by a bad screenplay that apes The Dark Tower books but has no clue how to sing its beautiful melody.
I’ve always felt, gun to my head status, that the only way to achieve this spectacular quest is to shoot it like The Adventures of Tintin (2011) or make it an HBO series. The mo-cap would be utilized to never worry about actors aging and to achieve the fantastical settings we are taken to in the books. For the HBO option, you need entire seasons to get all of the story correct. While I understand things will get lost in all adaptations, shaving too much of this story damages the very thing that make it powerful. It feels as if they knew a sequel wasn't guaranteed so they hit us with the kitchen sink because we were never coming back to this world. Director Nikolaj Arcel and crew made a film that won't convert any new fans. Even with its lean runtime, the film is so flat and cold that you’ll swear it runs longer. It simply never gets exciting, even when it comes close to doing so it falls back into the muck and mire. There were two things in this film that crushed me the most: one is a scene that involves Jake Chambers being chased by a monster in the woods at night. This scene must have been lit with a single ember because you literally cannot make out a single damn thing. It was like filling a bathtub with ink then getting some shots of the splashing. Bad filmmaking that would become representative for the rest of the picture. And finally, the other soul crushing thing about this film is the final shot. I won't spoil it, but man, is it is a fucking hard slap to the face of Dark Tower fans who have waited many years and traveled many wheels to get here. Hey, Jude don’t make it bad. Too late. They took a sad song and made it worse.