The Dark Tower (2017) Review
"The Dark Tower" is directed by Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) and is based on the best-selling series of books written by Stephen King. The film stars Idris Elba (Luther, Thor), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Mud) and Tom Taylor (Doctor Foster). "The last Gunslinger has been locked in an eternal battle with the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together". 2017 is a big year for Stephen King adaptions, how high will "The Dark Tower" set the bar for "It"?
I didn't quite know what to expect from "The Dark Tower". It never looked that good but there was a reasonable amount of hype surrounding it due to it being an adaptation of a famous series of novels. That's where this films biggest problem arises- 4 books are condensed into a 90 minute film. Imagine the entire "Game of Thrones" story being just a 90 minute feature, it just wouldn't work. In every other area, "The Dark Tower" is offensively mediocre. The acting, the visual effects and the story it decides to tell are all very pedestrian and not that memorable at all. For this screening, I took my mother. The film ended, she looked at me and said "that was the worst film you've taken me to see in a long time". Now for my review...
"The Dark Tower" is a bad film. There's no two ways about it. However, there is potential and that unfulfilled potential actually makes willing to revisit this world in the future. I thought there was some potential for good world-building as many of the locations were quite cool- I would have loved to have spent more time there. However, because the writers are tasked with a near-impossible task, there's no time to pause. The writing is what lets this down as a film but I also blame the studio and the producers for deciding to compile the books into one, reasonably short film. Stephen King has quite a following, why couldn't the producers have taken it one book at a time...we could have had the next Harry Potter on our hands! But no. With terrible box office returns and lousy reviews, I guess we won't get to return to the world of "The Dark Tower" for a long time. The pacing is quick and usually that's a good thing. However, "The Dark Tower" is too fast paced for its own good. There is no time to breathe or think. This may work great for people who have switched their brains off for the film and will forget about it as soon as they leave the cinema but for more active moviegoers, the film may wash over whilst watching but when looking at it in retrospect, the plot was very pointless, not much happened and so many questions were left unanswered. Sloppy sloppy writing. Guess who's to blame for that? 4 different people! Maybe each person was tasked with a different book and then they all worked together to mash it to one comprehendible story (unfortunately was not the end result). Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel (the director) shouldn't work together again. They don't produce great results. It's always a warning sign when a film has more than one pair of hands writing its script (two at most). Too many visions and too many ideas.
The actual story is incredibly one-dimensional and doesn't actually have any depth or anything going on under the surface. We get the most brief explanation of what The Dark Tower is and why it is important. However, for some reason, this film does not feel like it is about the tower itself. The writers could have done a much better job highlighting the risks and importance of the tower. Such a complex and potentially interesting idea was rubbed down to the simplest, boring and generic ideas. Another thing I didn't quite buy was this longtime rivalry between the Gunslinger and the Man in Black. Other than them having opposing views on the tower, it wasn't quite clear why they had such a hatred for each other. Maybe that's because this hatred is developed and explored over 4 books not just 90 minutes of screen time? The Man in Black's motivations and intentions were also not clear at all. His powers were cool but everything else about him really resorted in him being a nonstarter of a villain. We also weren't given enough development behind the Gunslinger in order to get behind him and as for Jake, it's never explained why he is the chosen one and why he has been having these dreams and visions. "The Dark Tower" is made for people with 0 brain cells. It's a shame that such a highly regarded authors work has been turned into something so low-brow, dumb and stupid.
I also found the plot incredibly predictable. The film begins with a prologue showing children being strapped into chairs and their screams then being used to knock down the tower. I knew exactly then that eventually Jake would be strapped into one of those chairs but rescued by the Gunslinger. What happened in the final act of the film? Exactly that. The film really also tried to play on father/son relationships but with sons who had lost their father. However, it did it in such a cringe-worthy and silly way, it just didn't work. Coming from somebody who can relate to this, I found it forced and stupid. There were some really silly lines about 'he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father'...what does that even mean???! There's a whole scene which is meant to be important and emotional that just doesn't work and is bluntly put, bad.
The performances are all very pedestrian. I've seen more annoying child actors than Tom Taylor so I suppose that is a good thing. I actually think this kid has potential in this kind of film, he seemed well cast. However, he landed himself in a bad film and I don't think it was the right choice to kickstart his movie career. I feel sorry for Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey - two actors who have proven to be talented in the past are stuck with a dire script in a very bad film that is pretty laughable. The thing is, I don't think either Elba or McConaughey realised that they were making a pile of s**t even when filming as both seem to be taking their roles very seriously. I was impressed by McConaughey and thought he delivered his lines in a fittingly evil way. His voice works very well as a villain. It's a shame that there was nothing else going for The Man in Black. However, as for Elba, this is one of his most mediocre and forgettable performances to date. He wasn't given much to work with but I didn't believe his chemistry with Taylor and the only reason I believed his rivalry with McConaughey is because the script told me to. The supporting cast aren't great either. Like the story, the cast have a lot of promise on paper but it didn't quite work when brought to life.
The visual effects were very poor. CG is used pretty sparingly but when it is used, it is so bad. I haven't seen a film look this bad in years. The weird demon creatures look like something from Doctor Who...10 years ago. The cinematography in general is ok but I think it's quite hard to make a desert landscape look bad. What was awful though is that the film noticeably used bad quality stock footage for its extreme wide shots of locations. And what makes that even worse? They added effects over the stock footage according to what was occurring on screen. Do they honestly think the audience wouldn't notice that? I know stock footage is used quite a lot in films but when it's so obvious, that's when it becomes a problem.
The Dark Tower really hasn't kicked off this supposed 'Stephen King universe' in the best way at all. To be honest, it couldn't have got much worse- poor critical response and barely any interest from audiences. However, it's not a criminally underrated gem for people to discover, it's something people have been clever enough to avoid. Whoever green-lit this project with the idea to condense 4 books into 1 film must have been losing their mind. This film was never going to be good. The acting was pedestrian, the visuals are poor and the story is a shambles. It's a shame because I do have some interest in revisiting this world and its characters so hopefully one day somebody will pick it up and do it properly, one film at a time. I'd like to apologise to long term fans of the novels who've had to witness this and are probably disgusted by what they saw. Thank goodness it was only 90 minutes, I couldn't take much more.