‘The Dark Tower’ Falls (Movie Review)

It may not have been painful, but The Dark Tower is not an exciting launch to the cinematic world fans have been waiting for. After years of attempts to bring Stephen King’s novel series to the big screen, the result is a bland shrug of a film. Despite the efforts of four screenwriters to do the best they could in crafting a story that functions as an adaptation, cinematic sequel and feature-length TV pilot all in one, there are few merits to take away from something that had potential to be trippy fun. The Dark Tower may have wanted to be the epic fantasy western fans were counting on, but it’s more like a film that sped its way through the waste lands of familiar ideas and dull action.

Some simple text explains part of what’s going on in the film’s opening. A dark tower connects various dimensions and if it falls all hell breaks loose. A lot of questions are then raised, as we see kids being taken into a strange chamber and being forced to shoot mind waves at the tower. Do these kids die from this? No idea, as we never see or hear about them again. Why is this happening in the first place? Well, that has to do with The Man in Black (aka Walter, played by Matthew McConaughey). Walter is some sort of sorcerer who wants to destroy the tower because…evil rules? I guess that doesn’t matter, so let’s get to the kid.

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a young boy who has visions of The Man in Black, the Dark Tower, and a Gunslinger. Despite the unusual presence earthquakes in New York, no one takes this kid seriously, and he soon finds that he is on his own to investigate what he sees in his dreams. This eventually leads him to a portal that transports him to another dimension. It is there he meets Roland (Idris Elba), the last gunslinger, with a mission to kill Walter. Conveniently enough, Walter’s magical powers do not affect Roland (for reasons unexplained), so it’s just a matter of Roland having a guide to take him to his nemesis.

The biggest problem is the film’s lack of vision. Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) may be a fine director, but he’s not in the position to put together a film that brings out the weird elements that apparently make The Dark Tower feel much less generic in novel form. J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard were two directors attached in the past, and they would have at least had the clout push this film into a more imaginative direction. As it stands, The Dark Tower spends a lot of time in unremarkable locations, with no real sense of scale or even a proper sense of what sort of fantastical demons the Gunslinger is going up against.

It is very fortunate the film has Elba to work with. If there’s one great thing The Dark Tower gets to do, it is show off Elba as The Gunslinger. Once Roland arrives (and it takes a little while), even as the film takes its time to warm up the Gunslinger character, it is clear that Elba is a born movie star that perfectly fits the Sergio Leone-type character King had been inspired by. Whether it’s brooding in dark and cheap-looking locations or playing up the fish-out-water angle on the entire square block in New York the film had to work with, Elba is committed in a way sells the character.

Less successful is McConaughey, who oddly holds back from playing up his charm to create a truly devilish villain. It’s a choice I never quite understand when it comes to seeing charismatic actors play down their strengths to make an against type role seem more fascinating. McConaughey may be hamming it up here, but not in a way that makes him any more watchable than he is in his Lincoln commercials, minus the existential line readings. With Elba already doing so much of the brooding, it becomes a task to sit and see McConaughey sell some terrible lines of dialogue in such a subdued manner when the role is screaming for something wilder.

As for the boy, who serves as the lead character, the best I can say is Taylor did not annoy me. While I’m aware Jake is a major factor in the books as well, I could not help but feel like his presence seemed ripped out of a studio note for how to make this film more accessible to all audiences. That’s not inherently wrong, as an audience surrogate can be useful, it’s just that this kid is so uninteresting to the point that his only usefulness is to draw the characters we are more excited to see.

There would be a way to help garner further interest in Jake and the others, which would be by adding any dimension to the characters we follow or meaning behind the concepts being introduced. That’s not the case with this film, as The Dark Tower runs a very lean 95 minutes (with credits). The film has somehow not been cut down to the point of being incomprehensible, but the benefit of quicker pacing only means having a lack of any real context for why things are happening the way they are. It also means having no real stakes or appreciation for what the hero can do.

As a Gunslinger, Roland’s ability is to shoot anyone with his revolvers and never miss. It’s not the most dramatically satisfying, as the guy is a crack shot and can’t be stopped, but it would ideally be fun to watch. Sadly, the action comes up lacking. The first real action scene arrives around 45 minutes into the film and is set in the murkiest of locations. A climactic battle has Roland shooting a lot of people, but it has almost no weight given how uninteresting it is to see revolvers taking down random goons over and over. Elba may have the intense look down as he provides the most badass reloads since Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2, but it only goes so far.

What doesn’t go very far is this film as a whole. By the end of The Dark Tower, very little has transpired to have me excited for the potential future of this series. Given the rabid fan base and their desire to see this world come to life, I am very curious to know what kind of response is had with this first film. With an understanding that this series may continue with more movies and a tv show, I would honestly like to know what else there is to do.

The film asks a lot of questions that are in no way answered, while also providing a strangely simple solution to the main plot of this initial story, but will those open queries build to bigger and better things? I have no idea and thanks to what felt like the result of how little effort could be put into this adaptation, while still making a film with the potential to be a moderate success, I don’t have much desire to see where things go from here. It was fine seeing the Gunslinger in action, but when seeing some graffiti art mentioning the Crimson King, I would have been fine just washing that off and forgetting about it.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “‘The Dark Tower’ Falls (Movie Review)”

  1. Nancy

    The movie sucks.. read the books