Stephen King is pretty prolific when it comes to not just horror fiction, but literature in general. The man’s been churning out stories faster than Michael Bay churns out explosions. Sadly, King’s stories have the same good-to-bad ratio on the big screen as Michael Bay’s; in that they mostly suck more than that really expensive vacuum your mum just bought. A shining star among King’s many written works has always been his Dark Tower series, which much like the Tower itself, seems to connect a LOT of his stories together. Fans have eagerly awaited the day when The Tower, The Man in Black and The Gunslinger would finally step onto our screens, and now it’s here.
The Dark Tower is directed by Nikolaj Arcel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – no not the Daniel Craig one) and stars Tom Taylor (Taboo), Idris Elba (Luther, Thor) and Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club). Alright, alright, alright. I put Tom Taylor as top billing because this is the story of a young boy named Jake (Taylor), who keeps having terrible nightmares about a Tower, a Gunslinger and an insidious Man in Black. Obvs he’s crazy. Or maybe it’s because he got a glimpse of the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Elba) and his old foe Walter (McConaughey) locked in their age-old (and eight book long) battle on Mid-World. So was this the epic tale we’d been waiting for? In the long dark tunnel that is Stephen King’s history with cinema, The Dark Tower is sadly not a shining light, but more of a perfectly acceptable lamp. Y’know, like on a bedside table. One you didn’t pay a lot of money for or expect anything great from, it’s just…there. The Dark Tower is the Ikea of Stephen King movies, now where’s my allen key…
Roland takes aim at the box office. And misses by a country mile.
I’m a fan of Stephen King, though I’m far from professing that everything he writes is fantastic. More like 50%. This is true of The Dark Tower series too, which while I love it, is a very uneven (sometimes laughably absurd) series of books. That said, the creators of this film have said this is not a strict adaptation of the books, so knowing that meant I didn’t watch this movie through biased, Dark-Tower-Fan eyes. I did, however, watch this through ‘I’m-going-to-see-a-movie’ eyes, and what I saw was a perfectly okay but unremarkable, rushed–as–hell fantasy-action movie. It had some footing in its source material; not too much that it’s an unfaithful adaptation, but not so little that it barely resembles its namesake at all. There’s a lot of little Stephen King easter eggs in here for fans and keen eyed viewers to pick up on, from both within and without of the Dark Tower series. For the first and last time I warn you: if you’re going to watch this and compare it to the books – DON’T.
You will be mad, drive home furious, probably crash into a tree, die, and proceed to haunt the writers and director for making this movie. If you think you can deal with this being ‘a new cycle’ of The Dark Tower (fans know what I mean), then you’ll find an okay movie here. So don’t get too excited either way.
Me internally when I left The Dark Tower.
As I mentioned before, there are glimpses of the Dark Tower story fans know here (my favourite being the rose spray painted on a street wall), and it’s much the same with our characters. Roland is played well by Idris Elba, who brings a believable ‘haunted’ vibe to the role of our Gunslinger. He is certainly more likeable than his book counterpart (in the early days, anyway), as we see Roland as an honourable man possessed by revenge. Arguably the main character despite Roland being THE Gunslinger, Jake Chambers is actually played quite well by young Tom Taylor; feeling fairly earnest and natural. The Man in Black however, is where we take a dip towards the wackier as Matthew McConaughey seems to relish playing a moustache twirling villain. Walter O’Dim is pretty damn two-dimensional, coming across as a Saturday morning cartoon bad guy. It’s not terrible, just a little jarring given the more serious nature of The Dark Tower, but McConaughey remains likeable even when he’s dressed up like a Hot Topic model.
*‘Let’s Get It On’ by Marvin Gaye plays*
If there’s one thing The Dark Tower has going for it, it’s a vibrant fantasy world filled with a mishmash of cowboys and sorcery. This is on display here as we get some decent practical sets that blend shanty-towns with old-world technology. Very Firefly. In fact, this is both a charm and a curse, because unlike Firefly, Dark Tower is not working on a television budget. Given that this is not only a blockbuster Hollywood film, but also a potential kick-starter to a franchise, it’s surprising that some effects here appear to be of the calibre of the SyFy channel. We do get some decent blending of practical and digital; such as one shootout sequence where Roland is satisfyingly fast. However, this is brought down by moments that feel rushed (like a lot of this film), such as the ‘house demon’ that appears for all of five seconds and apparently took most of the effects budget. The effects here aren’t awful, just uneven, which leaves the film feeling cheap.
Just a guy training a kid to use a deadly weapon. In an abandoned warehouse. Without earplugs. 10/10 would responsibly parent again.
So here we come to the biggest issue with The Dark Tower. One word: rushed.
This movie feels like it’s so eager to get you out that door, it makes you wonder what on earth it didn’t want you to see. This movie is a brisk 95 minutes long, which is rom-com territory, not fantasy-epic territory. You don’t need to have a Lord of the Rings runtime, Dark Tower, but at least try to outlast This Means War. Yes, sadly someone over at Sony (or perhaps the team of 4 writers) decided that their first swing at the Dark Tower batting plate didn’t need to be a long, or even well-paced one. This film is critically afflicted with lazy film-making syndrome. Quite often The Dark Tower makes mention of world elements BEFORE explaining or even setting them up. Like Jake having a ‘shine’. Fans of The Shining will know this is another word for psychic powers, but the film repeats this terminology over and over like we’re already acquainted with this world. Um guys, this is not how you do world building!
Pacing here isn’t all over the place, it’s just put at 5th gear and left there. But weirdly, very little that happens is particularly engaging, and overall its story feels fairly flimsy. Other issues include jarring cuts to short scenes that seem to only exist to introduce an ‘action beat’. Somewhere, Sony’s army of market research people must’ve been bashing director Nikolaj Arcel over the head with clipboards shouting “Audience interest is dipping! DIPPING ARCEL!!!!!”.
Yes, Stephen King’s fantasy epic is shorter than this cinematic masterpiece.
Honestly The Dark Tower isn’t a bad movie, a good movie, or even a mixed bag. It’s just kind of a disposable, by-the-numbers movie you’d find on Netflix and think “why not?” There’s nothing particularly deal breaking here, but it’s just not a particularly engaging movie. For the average viewer and forgiving/intrigued fan, this is a perfectly watchable- if a little unremarkable- action fantasy. Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Taylor are fine and the visuals are okay, but this could have been so much more.
For puritan book fans this is going to be a steaming dumpster fire of a film. For fans like me who can just sit down and switch off our fan brains to enjoy the show, well you’ll watch a movie. That’s all you’re getting here, folks.
The Dark Tower: it’s a movie.
Wicked Cool rating: 65%
The Dark Tower rushes its way to the finish line, but falls over and faints from exhaustion with a C+.
The Dark Tower is out now in cinemas, so check it out. Or don’t. Whatever.
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Stay tuned to Pixel Pop for our Month of King: where we’ll be covering all things Stephen King on the big screen, leading up to September’s release of IT. Mwhuahahahahahahaha