The Dark Tower is not a bad movie. It’s just not for fans of the books.
It was never going to be a faithful adaptation of the original, which numbered eight novels and adds up to over a million words. So, rather than attempting to distil the series with all of its characters and side quests and themes, director Nikolaj Arcel handpicked a few core characters; namely Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), around whom the greatly simplified plot of the film revolves.
Taking a morbid, genre-crossing epic that questions the fundamentals of the Good VS Evil dichotomy, and condensing it down into a straightforward Good VS Evil quest with a plucky kid parked front and centre, was never going to produce a great film. And that’s fine, because The Dark Tower is not aiming for great. It’s just aiming for good.
So what are my complaints?
The Dark Tower suffers from the same sorts of problems as Seventh Son, the Percy Jackson films, Beautiful Creatures, I Am Number Four and so many others: it is a money-making exercise. Commercialism stands too close to the camera. You can practically hear someone in a board room talking about “broader audience appeal” and “streamlined narrative”, lowering the rating to PG-13 so children can see it and cutting every possible corner. As a result, the story is defanged and bleeds frustrating questions from its numerous plot holes.
The things that made Stephen King’s Dark Tower captivating are utterly absent. Walter is a genuinely threatening presence, but his motivations are superficial and lack complexity. Even with the end of the world hanging over the plot, the predictability of the ending prevents tension from rising very high.
There are frequent pointed nods to major figures from the books (notably the Crimson King and the nature of the Tower itself) which are never explained, hinting at the director’s hope for a sequel, but it results in a disappointing lack of closure.
All that aside, I stand by the statement that The Dark Tower is not a bad movie. The visual design is excellent, and Elba and McConaughey are pitch-perfect as old enemies. Elba gives the archetypical gruff old warrior a serious upgrade, delivering a Roland who shows both the wisdom and the weariness of a man who is much, much older than he looks. As for the villain – shallow motives aside, McConaughey has imbued Walter with carefully restrained violence and pure liquid evil. Dialogue that would sound contrived coming from anyone else sounds chilling when he delivers it. Taylor, for the most part, does a good job of balancing Jake’s active and driven role with the emotional consequences of what he has suffered.
The theme of the father-son bond, especially the trauma of its loss, is heavily emphasized and Elba and Taylor bond realistically through crises, despite only meeting a third of the way into the film. There’s no hand-waving “real men don’t cry” here. Roland may be driven by vengeance, but he is aware at key moments that he is dealing with a child.
Overall, if you loved the books, you probably won’t like The Dark Tower as a movie. Most of the best shots are in the trailer, and it’s not Stephen King by a long shot. Otherwise, if you haven’t read the books and you feel like watching something noisy and well-acted, I highly recommend it.
This movie was seen courtesy of Dendy Canberra
Featured image courtesy of MadameNoire