I paid a whopping $5.50 to see this movie and I can honestly say it’s not worth even a cent more. This year has seen an abundance of Stephen King adaptations (IT, Mr. Mercedes, The Mist, as well as a host of short stories), and The Dark Tower seems to be a black spot in an otherwise well-received group of films/shows. This one just got pretty much everything wrong. Even with a short runtime of only an hour and 35 minutes, this movie is an absolute slog to sit through. The foundation in King’s writing and a cast featuring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey say a lot about the terrible execution of this film, given the potential behind it.
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is an imaginative and troubled young kid living with his mother and stepfather, still coping with the death of his father. He constantly dreams of another world, a dark tower, an evil Man in Black named Walter (Matthew McConaughey), and a heroic gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba). Soon enough, Jake finds a portal to Roland’s world (it’s as easy as that) and comes face to face with the man whom he believed to exist only in dreams. This all happens extremely fast, as does the rest of the film, which makes it all seem just a little too convenient. Roland becomes a father-figure to Jake, and together they have to stop the Man in Black from using the minds of children to destroy the dark tower, which keeps demons from entering and overrunning all the different worlds of our universe. Yeah, it’s ridiculous. Roland has been fighting Walter for years, and has lost everyone close to him at Walter’s hand. Somehow, Roland himself has always been able to escape the clutches of death, but never succeeded in destroying Walter.
As you could probably deduce from its trailers, The Dark Tower is pretty much completely computer generated, most of it looking egregiously underdeveloped and cheesy. While I was watching I kept thinking that this movie was both too much and not enough in nearly every aspect, meaning that the CGI is completely overwhelming and overused, while not done well enough to look passable. Rather than a big-budget, gritty sci-fi western, it looks like a made-for-TV SyFy channel movie. Even if the story had any chance of being engaging, the lackluster effects and uninspired camerawork immediately took me out of it. That, and the fact that the projectionist forgot to turn down the house lights until 10 minutes in.
I can’t say that I have any real credentials to speak to the adapted storyline vs. the books, because I haven’t read them. In any case, I’m familiar enough with Stephen King to know that The Dark Tower felt completely watered down in comparison to how I expect King wrote the books. I’m sure this is due in part to the PG-13 rating, and also due to the fact that the movie is apparently both an adaptation of some parts of the book series, as well as a continuation of that storyline. The filmmakers basically tried to jam way too much information into far too short of a film, which in turn produced a rushed storyline, riddled with so much blatant exposition it could make your head spin. How do you expect to introduce a universe that’s based off of thousands upon thousands of pages of King’s detailed writing in 95 minutes? It was a recipe for disaster from the start.
Maybe the most infuriating part of The Dark Tower is its cookie-cutter, happy-go-lucky Hollywood bullshit ending, mostly because it’s so undeserved. The plot basically reads: exposition, exposition, little fight, exposition, little fight, big fight, happy ending. I’m going to absolutely spoil the ending so if you for some reason still want to see this film, turn back now. Roland, who’s been fighting Walter for years, always repeating his Gunslinger’s Creed, is only able to finally defeat him (with a trick shot) when Jake reminds him of the Creed. It makes absolutely no sense. Jake and Roland then destroy the Tower destruction machine, eat a NYC hot dog, and go into the gunslinger business together back in Roland’s world. This all happens in a span of like 10 minutes. It felt like director Nikolaj Arcel spent so much time on exposition that he was forced to cut the ending short.
What little merit The Dark Tower has is sparse, to say the least. Despite the rest of the cast being pretty much insufferable, Idris Elba’s performance is solid. This is probably because his character is stone-faced, which makes him much easier to play than the character of Walter, who is so over-the-top-typical-evil-guy it’s cringeworthy. The Dark Tower contains the faintest hint of that Stephen King charm that graces many of his works, although it’s all but drowned out by the film’s otherwise garbage composition. As the Dark Tower novels are partly known for tying together elements from all of King’s works, the film makes references to both IT and The Shining. The former is a simple moment where Jake and Roland pass an abandoned amusement park attraction bearing the name ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown,’ and the latter is the fact that Jake actually has the ability to ‘shine,’ as Danny Torrance does. These are cool inclusions, but that’s about the extent of it.
All in all, it’s both cheesy and cringey in terms of acting, story, visuals… pretty much everything. It’s really just in no way a worthwhile film. If you’re a fan of Stephen King, my advice would be to save your money and instead spend it on the upcoming IT adaptation, which I’m really hoping is gonna be a success. Or honestly, just spend it anywhere but on a ticket for The Dark Tower.