Title: The Dark Tower
Release Date: August 4, 2017
Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Release Format: Theatrical
Many believed The Dark Tower was one of those series that could never really translate to the big screen. Studios have been trying to produce a live action version of the 7-novel series (Often referred to as prolific author Stephen King’s magnum opus) for the better part of a decade. It’s gained and lost screenwriters, producers, and studios over the years but was finally released.
Whoops. It’s terrible.
For fans of the novel series, it should come as no surprise. The books follow the path of a post apocalyptic Arthurian Knight descendant/magical gunslinger as he undergoes a vengeance quest against a mysterious sorcerer who serves an even more mysterious entity of pure evil that wants to destroy the Dark Tower (A linchpin of multi verse stability) and let in the various demons and boogins from the outer darkness. The books have prophecies and magic and vampires and demons and time travel and cyborgs and rogue artificial intelligence and Stephen King himself inserted as an omniscient character. The Dark Tower books are the ramblings of a madman that should never have been condensed into a single sub-two hour film. To do so was an exercise in hubris that, thankfully, lead to one of the most cartoonishly nonsensical book adaptations ever committed to film.
The film focuses on troubled New York City kid Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who is having nightmares about a Man in Black (Interstellar star Matthew McConaughey) using a device powered by the psychic energy of captive children to shoot energy blasts at a jagged black monolith. Using his inexplicably masterful drawing skills, Jake covers his walls with renditions of these otherworldly scenes. These visions coupled with an arguably justified violent outburst at school cause his mother (Vikings star Katheryn Winnick) and stepfather to worry their child is out of his friggin mind. This leads them to pull Jake out of school and send him to some type of fun kids’ asylum they do zero research into.
Meanwhile, Roland Deschain (Luther star Idris Elba), the Gunslinger and last son of the house of Eld, armed with revolvers forged from Excalibur itself, is aimlessly wandering in search of the Man in Black who killed everyone he ever knew, seemingly out of spite. Right off the bat, this is where the movie starts falling apart. The Man in Black, who they offhandedly refer to in the film as a sorcerer, can just walk up to people and tell them they’re dead and they die. But not Roland. As presented in the movie, this is the beginning and end of the antagonist’s conflict with Roland. He’s just a guy with cool guns and a weird gun-based mantra that is hated by a wizard.
Those who have read the books know there is much more depth to their relationship, but that’s the thing. If you read the books, you know they’re telling a superficial bastardization of the story. In the books, Roland is the star, not Jake. Roland forms his ka-tet and goes on a heroic journey to save the multiverse from darkness. That is not this movie. This movie is about a magic McConaughey just being blindly evil, picking fights with everyone so he can destroy the world, and a couple people immune to his powers for reasons that are not explained venturing to shoot him with guns.
Understanding of the source material aside, this is just a bad movie. McConaughey chews the scenery like a generic supervillain, murdering or sexually harassing everyone he encounters. Action sequences lack any level of technical artistry, using quick camera cuts to piece together shooting and people falling down. They throw in stale fish-out-of-water jokes with Jake making snide remarks about the availability of bullets and powerful narcotics in his world.
For one of the most insane series of books to base a movie on, everything just ends up feeling so generic and rushed. Jake is supposed to have an emotional arc with his dad, but you only see a single newspaper article to set it up. An entire village shoots these meaningful glances at Roland, but none of it is ever explored and – please, please watch for this if you go see the movie – a romantic interest is introduced for Jake at the most breakneck pace I have ever seen. Over the course of five minutes, Jake locks eyes with her twice, is presented with her in danger, risks his life heroically to save her, and then she is physically removed from the film by an extra, never to be seen again. It’s amazing.
VERDICT: Fans of the Dark Tower books will be disappointed as this movie sands off so many details of Roland’s adventure that the protagonist himself is relegated to a sidekick. Those unfamiliar with the books will see nothing but a disjointed string of nonsense, unearned drama, and opaque book references. I’m not sure who the creators set out to make this movie for, but they appeared to have failed on all fronts.
- Cool Reloading
- Hilariously Bad
- Mercifully Short
- Unearned Dramatic Beats
- Inexplicable Magic, Setting, Motivations
- Neglects Series Protagonist
Jeremy is an ex-video game developer that has written for The Escapist. He spends all his free time reading comics, watching every movie that comes out, and playing all the video games.