Stephen King certainly is a hit or miss for a lot of people, isn’t he? At least, as far as his film adaptations are concerned. It seems like his most celebrated films are his non-horror films, like THE GREEN MILE (1999), STAND BY ME (1986), and my personal favorite film of all time, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994). That’s not to say there aren’t some standout horror films that are considered great, like THE SHINING (1980), CARRIE (1976), and MISERY (1990). Personally, I love THE MIST (2007), but most everything else is either ridiculed, or entertainingly bad, like CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984), MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986), and DREAMCATCHER (2003), to name a few.
Of course, I’ve never read any of his books. Not much of a reader. But that’s not to say that anything with King’s name on it isn’t going to pique my interest. It’s so fascinating to see his on-screen adaptations be so diverse in quality. To my understanding, his novel series, The Dark Tower, is what he himself considers to be his magnum opus. A series that links many of his past novels together into a multiverse type deal. I admit, that’s pretty interesting, and I’m curious to see just how much of that will be translated to the film.
So how do I feel about this movie? It looks… basic. Don’t hang me! But it kind of does. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of a darker, more serious version of LAST ACTION HERO (1993), a campy classic of the 90’s if you ask me. I can’t claim for certainty if the Schwarzenegger action romp is technically inspired by the novel series, but the similarities are there. A kid is an adventurer of sorts, one is an action movie junkie (ACTION HERO), the other is described as an adventure seeker (TOWER), and both get whisked away into a world not like his own, and meets up with a bad-ass mutha who’s at war with an asshole, and their conflict eventually carries them back to the real world of the kid, who probably gets himself into trouble more times than he really should. Hello!?I’m sure this movie is wildly different, but it might be a little too easy to make comparisons.
Well, here’s the on-screen talent. Starring, we have young Tom Taylor (known for TV shows I’ve never heard of), Idris Elba (THE JUNGLE BOOK , PACIFIC RIM , THOR , and upcoming films THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US  and Marvel’s THOR: RAGNAROK ), and Matthew McConaughey (GOLD , KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS , and REIGN OF FIRE ). In support, we have Jackie Earle Haley (THE BIRTH OF A NATION , SHUTTER ISLAND , WATCHMEN , and the upcoming Robert Rodriguez film ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL ), Abbey Lee (THE NEON DEMON , GODS OF EGYPT , and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD ), and Katheryn Winnick (KILLERS , and TV shows VIKINGS and BONES).
Now for the talent behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Nikolaj Arcel, known for A ROYAL AFFAIR (2012). Co-writing the script, making for a red flag total of four writers, we have Akiva Goldsman (RINGS , THE 5TH WAVE , I AM LEGEND , and the upcoming DC film TITANS ), Jeff Pinkner (THE 5TH WAVE, TV shows ZOO and FRINGE, and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE  and Sony’s Marvel Spider-Man spin-off VENOM ), and Anders Thomas Jensen (BROTHERS ). Composing the score is Junkie XL, known for BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016), DEADPOOL (2016), DIVERGENT (2014), and upcoming video game adaptations SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (2018) and TOMB RAIDER (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Rasmus Videbæk, known for THE ROYAL AFFAIR.
Overall, I can’t say I’m super stoked, but I’m curious enough to want to see it.
This is my honest opinion of: THE DARK TOWER
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a young boy who experiences visions of a man in black (Matthew McConaughey) who is trying to bring down a dark tower and destroy the world. Thing is, no one believes him and has been seeing therapists. But after his mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) feels that she has exhausted all of her options, she contacts a pair of people that will take him somewhere to get better. Believing these people, who bare striking similarities to those he’s seen in his visions, runs away to seek answers. He eventually comes to a house with a mysterious key code, punches in a set of numbers he’s been seeing and finds himself teleported to a world known as Mid-World, the world where the Dark Tower resides and has been terrorized by the man in black. His only protection: Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is the only one that Jake believes that can stop the man in black from destroying the tower.
For such hype, this movie is a letdown, but I’m not entirely sure if I was expecting anything amazing to begin with.
The setup is already confusing on its own. A series of opening text states that the Dark Tower is so powerful that it protects all the dimensions from the forces of darkness, but there’s a… what I can only assume to be a prophecy that states that there’s one child who’s mind can destroy it. That seems like a lame weakness, if you ask me. I mean, why? First off, why aren’t we done with this cliché of “chosen ones?” If a movie can start off drawing comparisons to STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999), then it’s not a great start to a film. This is only the first thirty seconds of the movie, mind you.
Then we jump to our Earth, Keystone Earth, as the film likes to call it for some reason, and we see that Jake has been drawing these visions that he’s been having for quite possibly quite some time because he has a therapist and his older brother is commenting that the therapy isn’t helping. And this is another big problem I have with movies like this: the victim of visions that goes around telling people the crazy things that he sees and expects them to believe him. This is such a tired trope too because no story that has ever existed with characters like this has ever had anyone believe them. Why would they? This is reality. We chock these things up to chemical imbalance for adults and bad dreams for kids. If Jake was in his single digit years, I might be more lenient toward his lack of common sense and understanding of human nature, but Jake is probably closer to being a teenager than a child. He’s gotta be able to distinguish what an adult would believe and not believe by now, and visions of a “man in black” and “people with fake skin,” that’s a hard pass on reality. Even the kids from the TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016 – ongoing) knew what to keep to themselves and they were definitely younger than Jake.
Even once things start coming to a head and the people with the fake skin enter his world and hunt him down at his home, he’s outrunning a grown-ass adult. A grown-ass adult that’s not even human and the punishment for failing the Man in Black is quite possibly death, so they’ve got all the motivation in the world to keep chasing him. But they don’t. He gets away. And to make matters even more outlandish, he manages to travel an unknown distance to a house that serves as a portal to Mid-World and this entire time, I’m wondering where the hell the police are. Surely the mother would have called the cops and there’d be an army of cops pulling over public transport after public transport looking for the squirt. He’s not a ninja. This shouldn’t have taken so long.
That’s probably the most obvious problem with the movie. It’s horribly written and we’re expected to suspend too much disbelief. But see, if this was taking place in the fictional fantasy world, this could make all the kind of sense it wants. But Keystone Earth is supposed to be our Earth. Physics, plausibility, you can’t chuck that into the wood-chipper with a cackling evil laugh. You have to ground these aspects in reality. Also, the villain. While I’ll go into the
But fine, you could argue this is nitpicking. Does the rest of the film hold up when Jake gets to Mid-World?
Nope! It does not! First of all, those people with the fake skin, they wear that shit even in Mid-World. Um… why? It makes sense in Keystone, obviously, but… why in Mid-World? Are these beings so ugly that even in a world where ugly is the norm they have to cover up? Seemed kinda silly to me. There’s also a scene, a little after Jake’s met Roland for the first time, and in their traveling, Jake references the Man in Black, to which Roland immediately grabs Jake by his shirt and threatens to drop him off a cliff if he’s a spy for him. Note, it’s literally just the name that sets him off. Not a prolonged conversation about him and Jake says something stupid and Roland takes it the wrong way, no, the mere mention of the name “man in black” throws him through the ringer. There’s even some weird shots too. Like, this movie was desperate to show that it’s connected to all of Stephen King’s stories. For example, Jake stumbles upon a ruin of some kind and he’s standing on a submerged-in-the-ground statue of a hand holding up balloons and a sign reading “Pennywise” from his story “It.” It’s like the cameraman and the editor knew that the sign was hard to read in pitch black lighting, so they held on to the shot for dear life. There’s even a demon that makes it’s way to our heroes and it really reminded me of that alien from STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) that slashed Padmé’s back in the Geonosian arena scene.
And really? Walter? “The Man in Black” … the name that strikes fear into the hearts of all in the known realms… the man who killed all but one Gunslinger, a legendary order of warriors that numbered in the legions, and literally has the power to command people to die and they fall down dead… his real name… is Walter?
Honestly, the rest of the film is uninteresting and almost boring because Mid-Guard doesn’t look all that spectacular. I’m sure the idea is to make it look like an apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s way too visually boring. The forest scene is about the closest we get, but everything else makes you wonder how this takes place in a fantasy land instead of Earth.
And even when it gets to Earth, almost nothing stands out either. In fact, I’m having a hard time recollecting what even happened. I know Jake finds out that his mom dies and he is eventually kidnapped by… Walter… which leads to a shootout to save Jake’s life.
Which now brings me to my final complaint. Why does Walter want to destroy the realms? Okay, some people are psychotic and seriously should have had a loving mommy to hold them, I get that. But if I understand the movie correctly, the forces of darkness sound like demons that aren’t even of the realms of the established universes. These forces are outside of what’s known. Is Walter one of these forces? Does he somehow think he can control these forces, or think he can survive their coming destruction? For that matter, who ever created this Dark Tower, what was it’s intention? It’s primary function is to protect the realms from each other and from these forces of darkness. So why have a weakness built into it that could destroy the thing completely?
So many questions, so little care.
Is there anything redeemable about the movie?
Not… especially. Some of the action is ridiculous that it got a chuckle out of me, but I have no idea if I was giggling because of how stupid it was or… nah, it was pretty stupid. I suppose the actors aren’t all that bad all things considered and I do think Taylor was serviceable enough. He sure wouldn’t have been able to carry the film without Elba around, but he wasn’t bad. And up until learning that the Man in Black’s name was Walter, I thought McConaughey was decent. He had an intimidation about him that I enjoyed watching.
Overall, though, I think this movie is a dud. By no means the worst I’ve ever seen, but for a movie with such a background, a story that intersects all of King’s stories in some fashion and it doesn’t culminate into anything of any real substance. It’s like a perfectly crafted bullet trying to be shoved into a toy shotgun; it just doesn’t work on so many levels. The actors are trying and I hope this doesn’t ruin anyone’s careers, especially the younger actors, but if this was supposed to be a introduction to this universe, the access isn’t very universal. Hell, I’d be shocked if fans of the novels would get anything out of it. I don’t recommend this in theaters and I don’t really recommend it as a rental. It’s not overly long, not even two hours, but it might feel longer for some audiences.
My honest rating for THE DARK TOWER: a weak 3/5