In the opening credits the audience learns that The Dark Tower is a structure that holds the universe together, and if it were to be destroyed the universe would fall into darkness. There is one way to destroy it though and that is through the power of a child’s mind. The Man in Black aka Walter (Matthew McCaunghey) has been kidnapping children from earth and using their power to try and bring down the tower. On Earth, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been having dreams/visions of The Dark Tower, The Man in Black and The Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) until he travels to Mid-World. Teaming up with Roland, Jake must find away to stop Walter and save The Dark Tower.
Sometimes something like this happens with films with such rich source material, where they rely on people to have prior knowledge to truly appreciate the film. A film for the fans you might say. Sometimes filmmakers will tailor the film to bring in new fans, adapting the story either away from the source material or finding a way to include the new audience. You do not have to read Harry Potter to understand the films. Comic Book movies are another great example of this; you don’t have to read comic books to appreciate or enjoy the genre. And there in lies the problem. I have not read the books for The Dark Tower series, so I was going in completely blind to any of the mythology around the stories. As someone new to the franchise I left the film with more questions than answers, with no understanding of who many of the people were and what the back-story to the world was. Having spoken to people who have read the books though, they complained that the film brushed over much of the rich mythology that the books had built. So The Dark Tower neither pays respect to the fans of the books, nor creates an inviting world for people to explore. I was left wanting more and not in a good way.
I think criticism and praise must be given to Sony and the filmmakers for this movie, not for the quality of the film but for the fact they worked out it wasn’t good for anyone and ultimately had the film cut to 95 minutes. That is perhaps the best approach to the movie as it allows more people to go to test their curiosity, if this movie was over two hours there is no way people feel like taking a chance on a movie that hasn’t had the best reviews. It was smart making it shorter to cut your losses and avoid losing more money. The Dark Tower is a series that deserves The Lord of the Rings treatment of 3-4 hour films, but only if they are good. That being said the film doesn’t earn the right to be an epic film because it feels that the filmmakers are afraid to make an epic film. Films like The Dark Tower cannot be small, cannot be cheap and cannot be done with one foot out the door.
On face value The Dark Tower should draw in a massive audience, rich source material and two Hollywood heavy weights currently at the top of their game. The idea of watching Matthew McConaughey as an ultimate evil sounds fantastic, he doesn’t play the villain often and if his performance in The Dark Tower is anything to go off there is a reason. He didn’t care, at all, not one bit. He walks around in a somewhat menacing way talking in his slow, quiet voice but that is it. He does nothing to show how talented he is or to make me want to see more villainous roles from him. Newcomer, Tom Taylor also did not look like he wanted to be in the movie. I was completely taken out of the movie by his performance; there was no sense of wonder at experiencing a new world, or any real frustration towards his dreams or any other part of the story. Working with teenagers can lead to some interesting moments though, with extended reshoots meaning Taylor had started to go through puberty, making him look and sound different from the start of the film. That’s not his fault but it was interesting to notice the change, especially at a dramatic moment. Idris Elba might have been the only one who actually wanted to be in the movie, maybe because he is the only character that gets to do anything cool. He is great as the Gunslinger and brings together a strong performance that unfortunately can’t save the movie.
I hate too much exposition in films, or exposition dumps, and too often films will explain away the story or the past in a simple way, which can cheapen the experience. It is because of this that I love the film Dunkirk. Nolan allows the audience to engage with the story and characters on a thematic level rather than give away everything in a conversation. I didn’t think I would say this but The Dark Tower needed that conversation to explain just some of the lore of the series. The audience does not understand who or what The Man in Black really is and what his motivations are, what the Dark Tower does, how Shines work and who are the Gunslingers and why do they have guns forged from Excalibur. In fact why do you have Gunslingers up against an evil guy with magic? If guns were effective against magic someone would have shot Voldemort a long time ago. The plot of the story does not need to be explained but some of the mythology and lore definitely did.
Moving forward I hope that this gets picked up to be a TV series like it was originally planned. There was so much potential in this series given how many books there are and how popular the franchise is. With shows like Game of Thrones benefiting from having 10 episode seasons the show is able to show respect to the source material and also take it’s own liberties making it a show for non-book readers as well as hard-core fans. The Dark Tower needs this if they want to keep it in this form of entertainment. Ultimately the movie fails because it limits itself and doesn’t know whom to appeal too. They don’t make it friendly to a new audience or pay respect to the fans of the books, which definitely hurt it. The film could have been an epic, but will end up forgotten in a short period of time.
The film neither services fans of the books or welcomes new comers so it is hard to recommend The Dark Tower to a certain fan. I will say though if you enjoy Idris Elba loading his pistols in a really cool way then the last 15 minutes are perfect for you.
The Dark Tower scores a 4/10
Thanks for reading my review of The Dark Tower. Do you plan to see it? Have you seen it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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