Film Review: "The Dark Tower"

"The Dark Tower" promotional poster. (Photo from Collider)

"The Dark Tower" promotional poster. (Photo from Collider)

Rewrites, director changes, push-backs, and many other factors have plagued the production of “The Dark Tower” for nearly a decade, casting doubt among both Stephen King fans and movie fans alike that this movie would end up in theaters at all. Now that it has finally been released after so many years, here’s what I can say about “The Dark Tower”: It’s not a good movie whatsoever, but it’s also not the pile of garbage I was expecting.

Based on the incredibly popular book series by Stephen King, the film follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy in New York who has been experiencing dreams about Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), a gunslinger who stop his arch-nemesis Walter o’Dim (Matthew McConaughey) from destroying the Dark Tower, a large magical structure that rises higher than the clouds and protects all realities. After finally meeting Roland, Jake joins him on the mission to stop Walter from destroying all realities.

Now I have never read any of the “Dark Tower” novels. I didn’t know anything about the world, the characters, or the the Tower itself. This allowed me to go into the movie with a clear head and have no prior knowledge of the franchise. I was essentially going in purely as a movie fan and not a Stephen King fan.

So, as a film fan, I found that there were quite a few redeemable qualities to the film that made some of it enjoyable, but most of it felt like a huge missed opportunity, the first notable issue being something you don’t often hear in the film community: It definitely should’ve been longer. As I stated before, I am unfamiliar with the world of “The Dark Tower,” so I was hoping to learn a lot more about the world and the characters that inhabit it, but since the movie is only 90 minutes long, it felt very rushed and it failed to explain different aspects of the world that are presented in the film. For instance, from moments of dialogue throughout the movie, Roland and Walter clearly have a history that helped develop their rivalry. However, you don’t feel this in the movie, even with an occasional spark between the two here and there.

Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba in "The Dark Tower." (Photo from 

Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba in "The Dark Tower." (Photo from 

The rivalry is also affected by the motivations of both characters. Their motivations don’t feel authentic and felt as though they were copy-and-pasted onto each of them and were never fully explored, creating a rift between the audience and the characters that prevented me from connecting with both of them. Walter wants to destroy the tower by using the minds of children, which have the power to do so. But we never learn why he does what he does other than because he’s the villain, plain and simple. We’re just supposed to accept it and move on.

You also get to see Roland try to explain what the Dark Tower is, Walter utilize numerous spells and magical objects, and Jake and Roland visit a few locations. However, nothing feels like it has any levity because of the short runtime. The runtime acted as a major hindrance for the film because it brushes past several plot points and “world-building” moments that could’ve helped us get invested in the world they live in. Even the part I mentioned before about the minds of children is never explained to the audience. The film doesn’t invest any time explaining why they’re so powerful and how they can destroy the Tower.

But like I said, there are some redeemable qualities to the film. Most notably, I found most of the performances to be delightful. Idris Elba, as usual, kills it in the role of the badass gunslinger and I found Tom Taylor to actually be good in the film despite his young age. The two of them also created a believable relationship that contained some moments of actual emotion throughout the film, most notably in a scene where Roland teaches Jake how to shoot. I also found Matthew McConaughey to be a really enjoyable villain and you could tell he was having fun in the role.

I will also give the filmmakers some credit for creating some really enjoyable action sequences, but admittedly the CGI in some of those sequences weren’t top-notch and they usually ranged from passable to really noticeable.

Overall, “The Dark Tower” is a generic, bland, down-the-middle sci-fi flick that presents some great performances and enjoyable action, but greatly lacked the heart, spirit, and energy to expand upon its mythology and make us invest in the characters and the world they reside in. Personally, I feel as though the short runtime is the root of all the issues the film contains because things that are presented are left unexplained and things that are explained are left unexplored. Like I said, this is not a terrible movie. In fact, it probably won’t end up in my “Top 10 Worst of the Year” list or even in my dishonorable mentions. However, it was still a huge missed opportunity because the stuff presented in the film is really fascinating and I want to learn more about it. Luckily, a television series is currently being developed with “The Walking Dead” alum Greg Mazzara acting as showrunner. Hopefully the studio will learn from their mistakes and present a series worthy of the expansive, vibrant, imaginative world that resides in the popular 8-novel franchise.