Published on August 5th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls


The Dark Tower

You could probably have stopped at the goosebumpy trailer for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, because this garbage fire of a movie couldn’t measure up.

There is a stringent and ardent fanbase of author Stephen King’s self-proclaimed “magnum opus”, The Dark Tower series. This film adaptation has got a prebuilt, healthy backstory laid out in eight full books filled with ensnaring mythology that you can sink into like quicksand. Plus, it’s from one of the greatest literary masters of our time. It sounds like there’s almost no way it could fail. After all these years of fan anxiety ratcheted up to a breaking point, the powers that be have a heavy cross to bear. In the words of Omar Little, “You come at the King, you best not miss”.

The Dark Tower is a mini-disaster that doesn’t manage to connect on any level in any way. It isn’t so bad that it will sink anyone’s careers but isn’t going to help them either. This big screen film adaptation/sequel of the source material sets its sights low and still misses its mark by a mile. The film’s nonsense plot and frigid (not to mention sometimes dreadfully ugly) cinematography fire more than a couple rounds into The Dark Tower’s foot before anyone called for it to draw its pistols.

It’s to be expected that a lot of the target audience is comprised of people who know and love the gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba) and hate the dark wizard Walter (a.k.a. The Man in Black, with scenery chewed up and spit out courtesy of Matthew McConaughey). But there’s the rest of the movie-going (and therefore money-providing) audience to consider, and that group is fucking helpless in this mess.

I’m gonna have to level with you here: I have not read any of the Dark Tower novels despite being a strong fan of many of King’s works. But I do believe that a successful film should be able to be communicated without any homework required beforehand. So as a fresh fish in this ocean of sci-fi/fantasy lore I was left starting with very little context, which is odd considering how almost all of the dialogue spoken is filled with painfully on-the-nose exposition. Those in the know will view this film from a vastly different lens, but it’s something to consider.

The MIB is hell-bent on destroying the titular Dark Tower, which does something or something. The movie doesn’t really make it clear except that it’s an important structure in this universe. Anyway, this thing’s got to be protected from evil and so Roland seeks vengeance and destiny defending the tower. Good versus evil – easy enough to grasp. But it isn’t about the what; it’s about the how. The Dark Tower is a film lost wandering in its own overblown ambitions and underserved narrative.

It’s important to note that our audience surrogate throughout this shit is Jake, portrayed with one note overplayed to complete irritation by young Tom Taylor. Who knows if the kid isn’t right for the role or if the director just couldn’t get him steered towards a performance that isn’t grating and horrible to endure. Either way, it’s a classic case of an actor cast in the wrong part.

As for the marquee draws, Idris Elba is solid enough but he’s goddamn Stringer Bell so of course he’s going to be the brightest light when things get dark. The man could breathe life into anything and the movie frankly isn’t worth his talents. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the decisions Matthew McConaughey makes as an actor are expected to go over well. He’s half Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, half Nic Cage in anything, and half 80’s vampire with his dumbass haircut. It’s just baffling and does not help to mold an impactful villain that anyone can enjoy on any level. McConaughey makes a foolish mistake – you always go full Cage, never half Cage.

We really shouldn’t be hard on director Nikolaj Arcel here. With such high expectations and his freshman status in Hollywood there wasn’t a good chance that he’d get to show his artistic merit with this property. A lot of the moving pieces in this complicated puzzle are pretty horrible on their own but on a handful of occasions they momentarily collide in just the right formula to create a few minutes of enjoyable mise-en-scéne that sort of gives you some joy. But it isn’t ever for long, and the floodwaters rise back up again fervently.

There could be a greater discussion about the movie’s attitude. It seems to suggest that guns are great and if your life is shit you should just start shooting guns and run off to new dimensions as a young gunslinger. That’s almost exactly what The Dark Tower’s message is to kids, and it’s sobering to watch at times within a larger social context considering just how many bodies are shot up in glamorized fashion. There are a lot of bullets fired and bodies drop left, right, and center.

The runtime is mercifully brief, but is that because it’s meant to be a savory little appetizer for bigger things? Or is it because the filmmakers knew nothing could salvage what they had in any cohesive manner that would suit all creative influencers behind the scenes? Like they were just cutting their losses while cursing the money they wasted on acquiring the rights to the material. These 95 minutes feel like an eternity you’d rather spend anywhere else.

Who is The Dark Tower for? It’s undoubtedly going to disappoint fans of the literature and newbies aren’t going to take the bait. Is anyone going to walk out of this movie and say, “hot damn! I’m sure glad I spent my time watching that?” Bad writing, bad acting, mediocre production, and indifferent creative decisions all equal a movie that just can’t be recommended on any level. All these individual parts flailing aimlessly add up to a final product that isn’t worth the money, if not the time.

Some people are going to claim this is the worst movie ever, and those people are wrong. It’s not. But it doesn’t even have the redeemable guilty pleasure factor going for it. The Dark Tower feels like the Dollarama rip-off of an epic fantasy story that could capture the world’s imagination. Save your money and put it towards the real deal when something – anything – better comes along.

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is a Vancouver-based, lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. @dannicholls

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