Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
Adaptations of Stephen King’s stories seem to vary wildly in their quality. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is heralded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, while Maximum Overdrive is considered one of the worst movies of all time. There seems to be an incredibly fine line that cinematic adaptations of the author’s work must walk, with many films falling foul of this delicate balance over the years.
The Dark Tower is one such film. A loose adaptation of/sequel to King’s well-loved Dark Tower series of fantasy novels, The Dark Tower tells the story of Roland, the last Gunslinger, and Walter Padick, the Man in Black. King’s Dark Tower stories have been praised as some of his best work outside of the horror genre, so there were high expectations for the 2017 movie. However, the film’s first mistake was the odd decision to make it a sequel to the series of novels, because it immediately alienates its audience: fans of the book find the timeline an odd choice, and those new to the story have a weird entry point after most of its significant events have already passed.
Putting this aside, The Dark Tower introduces a dark world of sci-fi fantasy that incorporates key elements of King’ original story. Immediately conjuring the bleak image of a villain intent on destroying the universe, The Dark Tower then sets about establishing its heroes and their own abilities to resist the machinations of the powerful Man in Black. This is where The Dark Tower truly begins to find its feet, although it does so in a fairly predictable fashion.
The Dark Tower Has Potential, But It Plays Things Too Safe
Despite boasting two A-list stars in leading roles, The Dark Tower is surprisingly unremarkable. Its story is a relatively straightforward fantasy narrative: the grizzled and dejected hero forced to muster up enough fight to protect the young, naive hero capable of saving the world from the unhinged villain bent on destruction. However, within that story, The Dark Tower does gives Idris Elba and Tom Taylor a chance to shine – they may not be delivering powerhouse performances, but they communicate their roles well. Matthew McConaughey, on the other hand, seems to know exactly what manner of mediocrity he’s let himself in for, and his performance feels like a throwback to his earlier career (before his critical reappraisal).
Honestly, the real problem comes down to writing. The Dark Tower‘s story is bland and derivative, and other than a solid premise (thanks to King’s original story), it’s not a film with a great deal to offer. Most importantly, everything feels rushed – cramped into a 90-minute runtime, The Dark Tower hardly explores the most interesting facets of its world, and instead seems content to skim over the vast majority of its narrative potential. This is a huge contributor to the overall feeling that The Dark Tower is an average fantasy action-adventure movie, mostly because it simply wastes its best opportunities to be anything more.
Despite this, The Dark Tower features a number of truly impressive action sequences that make proper use of its premise to deliver some genuine thrills. Elba’s Gunslinger is used to facilitate some fast-paced and stylish action that belies The Dark Tower‘s true potential, although as soon as the action passes, it’s back to clichés and formulaic storytelling. This is yet another way that The Dark Tower ultimately feels disappointing, because it’s clear that there were some genuinely good ideas behind its creation.
Though The Dark Tower failed to achieve its potential, it does do many things right. Its story is coherent and has interesting deeper implications, building an intriguing world that it simply neglects to thoroughly explore. It’s a disappointing film, but it’s not inherently bad: its action is good, and its story is sound (if somewhat unoriginal). Though it may not have been a success, The Dark Tower is a film that deserved much better – mostly because it also deserved to be much better.
Summary: The Dark Tower is an exercise in playing it safe: its solid action is wasted with the PG-13 insistence on there being no blood, its plot simply follows the most generic fantasy conventions, and its washed-out color palette inspires no hope whatsoever. Even so, it does tell its story with some style, and it’s better than its reputation suggests.
Highlight: The climactic action scene delivers something more gripping than the rest of the film combined, finally delivering on The Dark Tower‘s potential far too late in the game.