[REVIEW] ‘The Dark Tower’ Takes a Few Familiar Stephen King Missteps

Jason McDonald

I should kick this off by saying that “The Dark Tower” is one of those Stephen King novels I just haven’t gotten around to reading.  Perhaps if I had I would feel stronger about how the film turned out.  Still, even without having read the novel I was excited  purely because of the cast and because of how much reverence people had for the book series.  Is this one of those rare golden Stephen King adaptations or does “The Dark Tower” fall into more familiar territory?

Alright, so this is the part where I explain the plot of the film.  So for you book readers out there you’ll probably get a pretty good sense of how much the film differs from the book right here. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a young boy with special mental gifts. He has the shine and the shine does different things for different people.  In Jake’s case it allows him to have visions in his dreams.  These visions lead him to believe that a man in black (Matthew McConaughey) is attempting to destroy the Dark Tower in order to bring darkness to the world.  Jake believes that the only person that can stop him is a Gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba).  Unfortunately for Jake, no one believes him, and even Jake himself starts to doubt his visions.  However, when Jake finds a portal to another world he soon realizes his visions are quite real and the danger is even more real.

So if you asked me to form an opinion about “The Dark Tower” book series based on this film, I would’ve asked you “Did Stephen King write a young adult book series?” Because that’s what the film really feels like.  I know enough about the books to know that Roland is typically the main character, but Jake takes a bigger presence in the film as the “chosen one” who can lead to the destruction of the Dark Tower.  And that’s quite unfortunate cause Jake just isn’t all that interesting.  I’m not gonna berate Tom Taylor for his acting, I think he did just fine, but his story isn’t all that engrossing.  There are a lot of compelling things happening in his life, but as a character he feels super flat.  He basically serves as the audience surrogate so people can explain narrative details to him.  His presence doesn’t add anything of substance to the movie, which is incredibly unfortunate, because his screen time takes away from two powerhouse actors.

Idris Elba is excellent as a cool, calm, and badass supernatural cowboy.  You believe that this is the kind of guy that’s been at war with evil and has survived it all.  Whether he’s being cold and mysterious or unleashing hell, Idris Elba fits the character put on screen.  Matthew McConaughey on the other hand does an excellent job as Walter (the man in black) as he chews the scenery and gets really creepy with his villainy.  Unfortunately, he’s not in the movie enough and really just shows up to ham it up.  He doesn’t come off as the big evil they make him out to be, but he can be sinister in his own way.  Ultimately it seems like the best parts of “The Dark Tower” were underused.

Somehow this feels like a movie that would have done really well in the mid-2000s in the same way that “Underworld” did.  It has the same quality of action with an emphasis on gung-fu and slow motion shooting.  There are times when Idris Elba is just flying across the screen and shooting baddies with the greatest of ease.  Its decent action, to be sure, but it has a touch of feeling dated.

Probably the weirdest aspect of this film is that we see all these references to terrifying Stephen King projects like “It” and “The Shining” but this film is devoid of any scares.  There aren’t even any jump scares in the movie aside from maybe one, but even then it’s a poorly executed one.  Even with as creepy as Walter is he’s more of a diabolical comic book villain than a truly terrifying representation of evil.

This isn’t really a terrible film, although I would imagine I would feel differently if I had actually read the novels, but it certainly feels lackluster and underdeveloped.  There are great ideas here and solid actors, but it needed a better script to tie everything together.  This definitely isn’t the worst movie of the year, but it could very well be the most disappointing.

2.5 / 5 stars     

1 Comment

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      1. phanteana August 15, 2017 at 2:01 pm

        i read The Gunslinger 25 years ago (and have re-read every year since), and while i haven’t gotten around to much of the rest of the series i was still really excited to see The Dark Tower finally come to life after years in development limbo. while it wasn’t quite as epic as Lord of the Rings, it still gave me something to look forward to as i so rarely get excited about current releases. in order for me to see a film, something about it has to speak to me, and The Dark Tower did just that. the bad press and the harsh comments from internet trolls didn’t deter me from seeing the film on opening night (i never listen to movie critics anyway, because half of them don’t know what they’re talking about to begin with). i suppose the only real disappointment i had was the ending…i felt it could have been a little more dramatic, but the fact that it was left open to continuation was satisfying because i don’t want this story to end onscreen (be it on TV or in a theater). obviously, this film isn’t for everyone…but it is for some of us.