It’s no secret that Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is my favorite series of books. I’ve written of them several times before. While King is a master storyteller, I will readily admit the series has its flaws, and certain elements in the books I definitely think could have been executed better. However, for this review, I am divorcing myself from being a fan, and looking at this movie objectively.
I don’t envy anyone the colossal challenge of putting this story on screen. Told over the course of seven novels – three or four of which are massive tomes in and of themselves – and an eighth which goes back and fills in a significant time gap, this project would have been daunting to even the most experienced director. In a post-Lord-of-the-Rings world, I firmly disbelieve in the notion that some things are unfilmable. Everything is filmable, if you do it right. The list of names once attached to this undertaking is as long as my arm, and includes big-budget Hollywood titans like JJ Abrams and Ron Howard. The huge names that walked away from this project might be the reason it landed in the eager lap of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, a guy with a few small credits to his name, but still relatively untested when it comes to a property of this scale and scope.
Unfortunately, that inexperience comes through on-screen.
There are two main targets that this film could have aimed for. First, it could have plunged into the depths of the lore and made a movie for die-hard fans like me, one that stayed true and did justice to the source material. And second, it could have been a great introduction to newcomers, explaining the mythos in a way that will get a legion of new fans on board, giving life to the franchise. However, somehow this movie fails to hit either of those marks.
For those un-initiated to this world, the story follows the quest of Roland Deschain of the line of Eld, last of the knight-like gunslingers, a man obsessed with reaching and protecting the Tower, the nexus of all worlds and the force that holds the universe together. Part spaghetti-western, part sweeping scifi/fantasy epic, part Arthurian myth, this is the saga of one man’s obsession and the length he will go to in order to fulfill his destiny. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.
The problem isn’t that The Dark Tower is a bad movie. It’s not. The problem is that it’s lifeless, mechanical, and generic. There is no soul to this movie. It’s almost like someone took the skin of The Dark Tower story and tried to wrap it and stretch it around a pre-existing Hollywood framework.
Most of the fault comes down to the script. The leads are fair to good, with Idris Elba as gunslinger Roland Deschain, giving the best performance he could with what he’s given, accompanied by a respectable performance by Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, the young boy from Earth who gets caught up in Roland’s quest for the Tower. Matthew McConaughey clearly revels in his role as the devil-in-all-but-name Walter O’Dim, the Man in Black who will stop at nothing to see the Dark Tower fall. The trouble is, the script is so clichéd and mundane that most of the time McConaughey comes across as a very cheesy, cookie-cutter villain. Full of tired story beats, throwaway support characters, and rote dialogue, the script takes a story that is inherently interesting – a dark tower, a deeply flawed hero, a cunning villain, an epic quest – and makes it…bland.
There are only a couple scenarios where I can see people really liking this movie. One, it might be liked by the kind of people who decide they want to see a picture-show, and decide which one they’re going to watch while literally standing in line at the ticket counter. And two, people who are at home, scrolling through their streaming service of choice, and who are vaguely in the mood to watch something scifi-fantasy-ish. In those cases, it will entertain you for an hour and a half, and you might even be pleasantly surprised. But it isn’t deep enough to satisfy long-time fans, and it isn’t interesting enough to gain new ones.
It’s not that The Dark Tower is a terrible movie. It’s certainlynot the worst movie I’ve ever seen. But it might be the most disappointing. There are even two or three moments that I really liked. But the prevailing feeling I had as the credits were rolling was, “meh.” And The Dark Tower deserves far better.
But, as fans of the books know, Ka is a wheel. The wheel turns, and everything comes back around, after all. What is old is new again, and the quest never ends…unless you do it right. I hope Roland gets another shot at the Tower, and I hope this story gets another chance to reach its full potential. But we’ll always have the books. Until then, my friends…
…Long days and pleasant nights.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed…”