The Dark Tower (2017): An Uninspired, Sparknotes Version of the Popular Source Material
Stephen King’s writings have made for some wonderful movies over the years, and some pretty atrocious ones too. The next adaptation of his work, The Dark Tower, has finally been released in theaters after years of development issues. Containing a great cast with a ton of lore to pull from, does The Dark Tower have enough to be this summer’s sleeper hit or will it be another summer folly? The following review will be spoiler free.
The Dark Tower is directed by Nikolaj Arcel and stars two A-list talents in leads roles, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.
Based off of the sweeping novels from Stephen King, we follow Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a kid who has strange dreams of a distance world. He sees visions of a Man in Black (McConaughey) who is attempting to destroy a tower that protects worlds from an army of darkness. A gunslinger by the name of Roland Deschain (Elba) tries to stop the Man in Black before he accomplishes his goal.
Although no one believes Jake, he quickly learns that his dreams are a reality.
It has been well-documented that an adaptation of The Dark Tower has been in development hell for quite some time.
In 2007, it was announced that J.J. Abrams was set to helm a version of King’s self-proclaimed magnum opus. However, after seemingly being burned out after creating Lost, both Abrams and his writing partner Damon Lindelof later claimed that they were no longer working on the project, calling The Dark Tower “tricky.”
Next up was Ron Howard. Upon starting the project in 2010, it was announced that the film was going to be released in May of 2013. However, Howard’s initial partnership with Universal Pictures fell through, leaving the rights to The Dark Tower up in the air.
Finally, Sony Pictures and MRC received the rights and fast-tracked the film into development. However, initial test screenings of the film were very poor, causing serious reshoots to take place. As you can expect, the film was delayed a few more times because of it.
What I Liked
As to be expected, The Dark Tower boasts great performances from both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Each actor has a very strong presense about them that is very resonant.
You can tell that McConaughey is enjoying playing the embodiment of evil as The Man in Black. The role allows him to play up all his signature quirks as an actor as he smirks and whistles his way through some pretty terrible acts on humanity. At some points, it seems like he’s back in another Lincoln commercial which is meant without an ounce of cynicism. He whispers to his targets with a certain power that evokes dread and terror. When you hear him coming, danger is upon you.
Surprisingly, one of the stand outs in the film is Tom Taylor in the role of Jake Chambers. Since The Dark Tower revolves around a kid, it’s absolutely necessary that the kid actor comes to play. Taylor is very capable of performing whatever emotion necessary as the lead actor of the story. He’s downtrodden, angry, or scared whenever necessary. Each of these emotions are very believable as well.
Tom Taylor and Idris Elba form a nice relationship as the story progresses. Unfortunately, there isn’t much personality given to this science fantasy western, but what amount of it there is is fully on display with these two characters. These two could make for a fun pair in future movies moving forward.
What I Didn’t Like
However, these two actors are likely never to get a sequel as The Dark Tower falls flat. The film is certainly not an atrocity. It’s quite competently made, in fact. This movie is one of the rare occurences where its brevity actually hinders its resonance.
The Dark Tower clocks in at about an hour and a half. Because of this, the expansive world that Stephen King created is reduced to its bare necessities, giving the film zero time to breath. As a result, story elements are glossed over, causing the world to be quite confusing and almost dull. We are introduced to a world that we are expected to understand going into the movie. There’s so many possibilities in this world that are given zero context.
In essence, The Dark Tower is like the series finale of a television show, giving us only glimpses into these characters and the world in which they live.
What I Didn’t Like…Continued
Because the movie is moving so fast between scenes, every character is given hardly any motivation or backstory. Each person is very surface level. McConaughey as the Man in Black is menacing, but we aren’t given anything regarding his motivations or the extent of his powers. The movie hints at a backstory between Idris Elba and McConaughey, but we never understand their relationship.
You can tell just from watching the film that those involved had troubled tackling the source material. As mentioned above, The Dark Tower‘s production had major issues with narrative flow and clarity, causing serious reshoots to occur. In some scenes, you can see Tom Taylor switch between being older and younger because the project needed to flesh out scenes a year later.
The most frustrating part about this film is its potential. Somewhere in here is great movie. Under better circumstances, The Dark Tower could have been an epic journey unlike one we’ve seen before.
Unfortunately, The Dark Tower falls short of a recommendation. There’s some amazing possibilities within this world that would have been a great cinematic experience if done correctly, but it’s obvious that those in charge of crafting this film never really quite had a grasp on the material they were handling. It gets a C.
There’s discussion of a television series for this property which may be the best medium for this property to take place. This film is one of the few that needed to be an epic. A movie described as a “science fantasy western” needs some room to breath.
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