The Dark Tower Review
Environment and effects bring the world to life
No character development
Weak motives for all characters
Very shallow dive into the lore of the dark towers books
The Dark Tower has finally come to theaters after being in limbo for the last 10 years. Has the wait been worth it? Kinda.
The Dark Tower follows the story of Jake Chambers, a boy from New York who lives with his mother and step-father. After the passing of his father, Jake begins to have nightmares about a Man in Black (Mathew McConaughey). In these nightmares the Man in Black uses children in a machine to shoot a light at a large, black tower. Every time he has these nightmares earthquakes happen on Earth that are unexplained. Jake feels these nightmares are real, but everyone around him thinks he is just in need of psychiatric care due to trauma caused by the passing of his father.
When he starts to see the people from his dreams in reality though he begins to fall further into realizing that these are not just dreams. He begins seeing more in these nightmares such as a house located in New York City, where he lives. He also has nightmares of a gunslinger (Idris Elba) who speaks of protecting the tower that Jake sees. Jake goes to the house from his nightmares after getting internet assistance on finding it, and ends up being transported to another earth set to find the gunslinger from his dreams.
From here on out, the movie sets out to differentiate the two worlds of Mid-World (the earth of the Man in Black and the Gunslingers) and Keystone Earth (our earth). The movie then introduces many of the different parts of The Dark Tower book series. There is enough to get fans of the books to notice nods to the series, but not throwing so many in that newcomers will feel confused. It keeps a good balance, which is both good and bad.
While the movie does use lore from the book series, it does not use the vast amount of lore available to its advantage, choosing to pick just small pieces here and there. While this makes it easy for newcomers to follow along with the movie without much confusion, it leaves fans of the book series wanting more, or feeling that this movie is a very shallow representation of the series. For this movie it does only get ankle deep into the ocean of lore that The Dark Tower book series offers.
The movie also only focuses on three characters. While there are other characters in the movie, for the most part they are given so little screen time that you are likely to forget about their part in the movie at all. The focus of the movie is of course Jake Chambers, Walter aka The Man in Black, and Roland aka The Gunslinger. The movie even makes it easy to remember these characters’ roles by rarely using their names when referencing them. While Walter and Roland will refer to each other by name, every other character refers to them by their monikers. This makes it easier to follow in some action packed scenes, but it continues the path of the movie feeling very watered down for the casual moviegoer.
The action scenes in this movie are easily the best scenes in the hour and a half runtime. Once the Gunslinger is introduced, the action scenes in this movie where he shows his skills are a spectacle that I can see people watching the movie multiple times just to relive. While the trailers for the movie have shown some glimpses of these scenes, they do not by any means do them justice. They do break up the movie and make the pacing feel very solid.
The acting in this movie is decent, but by no means the performance that any of the actors will be remembered for. Idris Elba plays the cold hearted Gunslinger who is so bent on revenge that his acting has him rarely play anything besides a grumpy old man. He plays the part well, but the character is so generically defined that there are no shining moments in the movie that could be used as examples of Elba’s acting skills. Not a bad performance on his part by any means, more a fault of the script than Elba himself.
The same goes to Mathew McConaughey, playing the monotone Man in Black. While he still holds the accent that he is known for, it makes McConaughey’s more monotone persona for this movie even more terrifying. He plays a great villain. His constantly calm demeanor and attitude throughout the movie become even scarier when his character shows his powers. The problem with Elba also falls on McConaughey though. He does not have any scenes where his acting really shines out as an example.
Newcomer Tom Taylors, who plays Jake, is the standard kid in a family movie role. While these roles are typically annoying in some sense throughout the movie, Tom does not feel that way and is a welcome addition to the movie. He does not act rashly and does act as a kid who is being thrown into this new world where nothing from his world makes sense anymore. His body language and facial expressions are consistent with the way someone being thrown into these situations he is in would act.
This is where the movie is lacking. The characters really do not develop in this movie. While the Gunslinger does go from having only the goal of revenge to actually saving the universe from The Man in Black, it’s more a shift back to who he was before the events of the movie transpired. It doesn’t feel like growth of the character, and more that he grew attached to the kid who is by his side during the events of the movie.
The Man in Black doesn’t really develop at all. He is a calm maniacal villain at the beginning of the movie, and is a calm maniacal villain at the end. His motives or reasons for the things he does are not really touched on, and the only reason given is that he is evil and thus needs to be the bad guy. He has no other given reason for settings the events in the movie in place.
While the environmental effects used to show the different versions of earth look great, they are outshined by the action scenes in this movie. The effects used during the Gunslinger fights are the most enjoyable and have you sitting on the edge of your seat. The different ways he reloads his guns and takes out waves of creatures in order to reach his goal are creative and satisfying to watch. The end battle where he is constantly firing and reloading while taking out everyone he can is particularly enjoyable.
The CGI effects of the magic used in this movie look amazing, whether it’s The Man in Black conjuring fire, or using powers to review the memories of someone in an area with ghost like replays of the events. They are effects I wish were more prominent in the movie, and I hope return for the supposed sequels this movie series is set to have.
This movie is very enjoyable to watch. While I would like to see a deeper dive into the lore of The Dark Tower books, this movie is a decent start at seeing what we can expect from the series in the future. People seeing this movie that are fans of the books might be a little disappointed, but the action scenes and themes in this movie do leave plenty to enjoy even with the shallow plot. The characters are also very enjoyable to watch, and while they are very cliché at times, they hold up.
The movie does end with you wanting more, which can be taken as good or bad. I would lean it more on the bad side as there is so much the movie watered down from the books, but the common moviegoer won’t notice. For people who enjoyed the books and know the vast amount of content that was washed over in this movie, it leaves this movie almost feeling empty.
This movie will not be breaking any box office records, but it is definitely a fun summer movie to go and see. I recommend checking it out when it comes out on Bluray/DVD. Fans of the book might be a little more disappointed in the movie, but the movie does a good job of introducing a lot of the different elements of the books to newcomers in a way that everyone should be able to enjoy this movie in some sense.
Sadly, this movie does not feel like it has been in development for almost 10 years. It is apparent now why the movie went through so many director changes and overall directional changes during that time. While The Dark Tower books do have a lot of content that would be amazing to see in a movie, this movie is not the one that it will be known for. This movie sets a good ground to hopefully see that movie in the future.