I waited until it came on TV before watching The Dark Tower. Not because I have anything against the movie. In fact, I’ve never read the books it’s based on, so I had no negative expectations about it. That can’t be said for a lot of dedicated fans, though. From the moment, years ago, when an old friend bawled at me over the internet, “It’s going to be terrible! There’s no way anyone could get it right! And they’re condensing the books into one movie!”, I knew The Dark Tower was going to be one of ‘those’ movies.
Sure enough, there was controversy: studio problems, complaints about the casting of Idris Elba, uproar about the fact he doesn’t wear a hat in the movie, shock that the movie is so short (95 min), etc., etc.
I didn’t care about any of that. I like Idris Elba. He’s intense, gritty, and his natural confidence and swag are attractive qualities in an actor. His on-screen persona is imposing and entirely suited to the character I imagined as the Gunslinger (aka Roland Deschain in the movie). I suspected Matthew McConaughey would do a great job as the villain (The Man in Black aka Walter Padick). He is a versatile actor with the ability to exude the sliminess, supreme confidence, cunning and menace befitting someone described in the movie as ‘worse than the devil.’
So, why did I wait to see the movie? Truthfully, it’s because I’m just at that point in my life when I’m picky about what movies I allow to drag me off my couch into a popcorn-dusted, Pepsi-splattered movie theatre. I’ve got a very comfy couch.
The Man in Black is using children’s psychic power (shine) to destroy the Dark Tower in order to usher in an era of chaos. Jake, an 11-year-old boy with incredibly powerful shine, becomes his next target. Our hero, the Gunslinger, hails from a line of knights dedicated to protecting the Dark Tower. He’s the last of his kind, bent or revenge, and he’s the only one who can stop the Man in Black.
What I liked:
The acting was good. It’s often a toss-up when you cast a kid in a movie. But Tom Taylor as Jake did a pretty good job. I liked his character, and he played well off Elba. I admit I was touched by the development of their relationship—a lonely, misunderstood teen thrown together with a burdened, tortured hero who’s lost his way, especially at how that bond culminates at a critical moment in the movie (hint: the Gunslinger’s creed never sounded so cool).
I liked Elba as the Gunslinger. He plays the character as a reluctant hero, who, after losing so much to the Man in Black, has chosen revenge over his knight’s oath. Granted, I had no firm expectations about the character since I’d never read the books, so I enjoyed his grisly, ‘no-nonsense yet sensitive’ take.
McConaughey was also good in his role. As a villain, his character was pretty standard. There wasn’t much in terms of character development or even why he wanted to destroy the tower beyond the fact that he’s a villain. Still, it seemed evident that McConaughey enjoyed playing a baddie, and the movie’s highlights revolved around his face-offs with the Gunslinger.
We didn’t get a lot of it until the end, but I loved when Elba slipped into full Gunsliger mode. The visuals and shoot-out fantasy tricks were thrilling to watch. The match-ups of gun skill versus magic, human versus sorcerer were exciting, as I kept wondering how in the world is a human with a gun was going to defeat a villain who could manipulate matter, among other things.
What I didn’t like:
Lack of world-building
This was a major flaw. When developing a fantasy/supernatural movie world where the story’s conflict has been going on for generations, when you have characters moving in and out of various locations/dimensions, and when the stakes are so high, you have to establish the setting, history, context, and characters within the story, and do it well. For such movies, their worlds almost become characters themselves, and a movie’s success has a lot to do with how well these aspects are pulled off. A lot of the time, I felt like I had to settle for one sentence explanations of what ‘shine’ was, about the Gunslinger’s heritage (which is pretty cool, btw), what the Dark Tower was and why it was so important, and why kids needed to be used against the Tower. That method of conveying vital information is underwhelming and confusing. This, I think, is what fans of the books feared: the studio disrespecting the story’s complexity and richness and for being skimpy in recreating it on film.
To be fair, it seemed the studio intended to create a franchise-type universe with TV spin-offs and sequels/prequels, which might have gone a long way to filling in the movie’s gaps and stunted runtime. Unfortunately, poor reviews and sales have probably made those options unlikely, which means we are left with a movie with so much potential but that ultimately fails to deliver.
So… was it worth it?
As a movie, yes. I’ve wasted more time watching worse movies. And despite it’s flaws, I did enjoy The Dark Tower, overall. The action scenes were well done, the Gunslinging scenes in particular, and the tension between the Gunslinger and the Man in Black, and the bond between the father-less Jake and the Gunslinger who’d lost his way, were particularly well presented.
- Relationship between the Gunslinger and Jake
- Action scenes
- Lack of worldbuilding
- Confusing story and glossing over important details