After a short hiatus, the Dark Tower Big Read returns! As more of a Big Watch, really, since this post is a review of the Dark Tower movie. I only made it through two of the books before the movie hit theaters, but the movie appears to bear scant resemblance to the books. That’s ok! It is also awful. That is not ok!
(You can find all of my Big Read posts here.)
Like I said, the movie doesn’t follow the events of The Gunslinger. 11-year-old Jake Chambers has been having dark, vivid dreams. These dreams seem to coincide with the strange earthquakes that have been wracking earth. He sketches his visions from the dreams. A tower, a man in black, a gunslinger, creatures wearing the faces of men. His dreams and related outbursts lead to his parents bringing in a clinic that will take him “upstate” (as all good New Yorkers know, this is code for a dark realm). He notices the seam on the driver and escapes. He flees to a house from his dreams, and uses the portal there (a mixture of magic and technology) to travel to “Mid-World.”
Mid-World is the world of Roland (Idris Elba), the last gunslinger. Roland is the first person Jake meets, and he convinces Roland to take him with him. Mid-World is also the world of the Man in Black, or Walter (Matthew McConaughey). Walter is using children to attack the Tower, a barrier that prevents demons from entering our world and Mid-World. Jake’s incredible “shine,” or psychic abilities, could be the key that allow Walter to destroy the Tower once and for all.
Ok, that isn’t the story from the books, but there is plenty to like in the movie. Tom Taylor, who plays Jake, does a great job. It’s not easy to find a child actor who can hold his own with two major actors. But then if a child actor is holding his own with the two adult leads you may have a problem…
The problem isn’t with Elba, though. As James Berardinelli notes, based on this performance, Elba could be great in a straight western. What I’m saying is we need Elba playing Bass Reeves. The real highlights for Roland are the fish out of water scenes in New York City and whenever he gets to use his guns. He ain’t called a gunslinger for nothing. (One of my complaints about the first two books is that we don’t get much of this.)
The vistas in Mid-World are pretty. There aren’t many.
And…that is about it for things that are good about The Dark Tower. The list of what is wrong is much longer. The Man in Black’s lair and henchmen are lame. The beam attacks on the Tower look stupid, and give me flashbacks to the Starkiller base from The Force Awakens. Really everything from Mid-World that isn’t a vista is a letdown. As are everyone in the cast except for Taylor and Elba. The attempts at creating emotional resonance largely fall flat. The mythology and worldbuilding are threadbare.
Which is probably because—and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a 21st Century movie—the movie is too short. I can’t remember the last time walking out of a theater thinking “that was it?” (There is no stinger, by the way.) The plot hasn’t been swiss cheesed full of holes in editing like a lot of failed movies. There aren’t much in the way of holes in the plot, in part because the plot is utterly lacing in ambition. There are no twists and no surprises.
But the biggest problem with The Dark Tower is the Man in Black. I say the Man in Black instead of Matthew McConaughey not because blame doesn’t lie with McConaughey, but because blame lies with a lot of people in addition to McConaughey. McConaughey doesn’t mail it in, but his choice to play Walter as understated and what should be creepy just doesn’t work. He is hampered by weak writing and by the challenges of depicting magic on screen, something I’ve harped on before, and something that the movie fails to come to grips with.
There are a lot of callbacks to the books (even considering I’ve only read a couple). The movie hints that Jake will get to Mid-World the way that he did in the books (though the trailers spoiled that one). Roland reacts to his first Coke and to his first hot dog. He has to treat his infection and goes to a gun store. But these mostly work as callbacks, not standing on their own. The last two gave us great set pieces in the books. In the movie they are nothingburgers (although the hospital scene is really funny).
Along with Legend of the Sword, that’s two big fantasy flops for 2017. On the science fiction side, we have Valerian. It’s nothing but superhero flicks from here to as far as the eye can see, girls and boys.
3 of 5 Stars.