Real Talk By: CMack Tha Don
As a Marvel fan, I can completely understand why people get involved with huge and sweeping multi-part epic storylines with tons of characters, amazing powers, creative locations, and high stakes and serious consequences for everyone and everything involved. Although Batman was always a childhood favorite, it was a breath of fresh air to see the characters I truly loved from comic books get brought to life in the early 00’s, with their powers, and eventually, their whole universe intact. Where am I going with this? Isn’t this supposed to about Stephen King? Didn’t the Simpsons do a hilarious parody of him making a book about an evil lamp (the answer is yes)?
What I’m getting at is that perhaps for King fans, particularly of the Dark Tower series, the release of the first live-action adaptation might have been something for fans to be excited about. Since I knew almost nothing about The Dark Tower novels except for some mild Wikipedia skimming and having seen the books in many a Barnes and Noble on the way to either the comics section and/or bathroom, you couldn’t call me a fan. What I would say about the Idris Elba and Matthew MacConaughey-starring version released this summer is that I get the feeling a major fan would be disappointed.
Even as someone who knew absolutely nothing about this series, it just had the feeling of not being complete, that it was missing something. After finding out the original books stand at a grand total of over 4,250 pages, maybe you could say my intuition wasn’t totally off. Many of the reviews I’ve read and people I know have mentioned The Dark Tower being one of the summer or year’s worst movies, and have completely skewered it and called it horrible, or worse. A lot of these receptions are probably either: A) from people who have a deep knowledge and love of the source material, or B) folks who just plain haven’t slogged through true cinematic crap, the true stinking bowels of cinema like I have. If you think The Dark Tower is truly an awful movie, try watching Deadfall, Troll 2, Birdemic, Revenge of The Fleshopoids, or Godzilla on Monster Island, or anything Steven Seagal has made on Netflix. Many of those aren’t just poor stories, they barely function as movies (hilariously, might I add).
The thing about Dark Tower: it’s completely, solidly average. I remember those movies listed above, because while they are objectively floating turds, they have the stink of comedy, and are so terrible that you can laugh at them, and be entertained. The Dark Tower has it’s moments, and isn’t true crap, but it’s that not-so perfect mix of better than hilariously awful but not anywhere close to good or remarkable.
Everything about the movie is like this: -the dialogue? Fine. -the sets? Pretty okay. -the performances? Acceptable. The look of the movie and the visual style kind of indicates this: a flat grey tone to just about everything, but not unique enough to make it stand out.
Idris Elba does well as Roland Deschain, The Gunslinger, yet we want to know more about him in the movie, and not in a good way. The movie has a lot of questions to answer about who he is and what he can do (and never does). Some of the film’s best scenes involve his character traveling from the strangely high-tech, magical, post-apocalyptic world he comes from and into ours, trying to adapt to how strange our world is to him. There are all-too brief scenes where he bonds with newcomer Tom Taylor who plays a human boy with psychic powers, and it’s a shame, because in the few scenes like this, Elba makes a great father figure. I will say that whenever the time comes for him to blow away the bad guys with his twin six-shooters, it delivers, and Elba pulls off some very slick moves that might make even Revolver Ocelot blush. The only problem is that there isn’t more of this in the 95 minute run time!
Matthew McConaughey in the film’s other largest performance is like everything else: just fine, but his character has no real motivation for doing what he does. His plan would more or less result in destroying all of the fabric of reality in multiple universes, which to a new viewer like myself made absolutely no sense. Even the worst people (or beings) have reasons for doing what they do. Those reasons might be confusing, convoluted, hypocritical, and more, and all of that can make for a great villain, as long as it aligns with what we know about the character. McConaughey in this just wants to make everything not so alright, alright, alriiiiight, and isn’t shown to have any driving force behind his evil deeds.
Wouldn’t ending all existence destroy him, too? The Dark Knight at least dealt with a character like his more effectively by introducing the idea that The Joker simply thrives on destroying any sort of sanity or order, getting a sick thrill out of doing what makes no sense. Maybe they thought that wouldn’t work here, or perhaps McConaughey’s character Walter (yeah, the incarnate of living evil with the magical power to make people commit suicide has the name of a Wal-Mart greeter. “Where are the Mountain Dew 86 packs, Walter? Oh, aisle 6 next to jamming a wine corkscrew into my face? Thanks!”) has an actual, clear motivation in the books.
Without trying to spoil anything, I think one of the clearest examples of how The Dark Tower doesn’t quite hit the mark is how Idris Elba’s Roland character doesn’t really earn some new understanding, change, or grow in regards to him trying to defeat his enemy that he’s failed against so many times. In a video game, if you try the same strategy against the final boss, and don’t get new items, plenty of practice, or try a new tactic or gameplay approach, the result will be the same as the other times before, and you don’t get the idea in the film’s climax that Roland is trying anything new. The concept has potential, because the film does do a few things with the protagonist I always enjoy: there’s scenes where he’s able to fight while handicapped, and his enemy is much, much more powerful than him in a practical sense. A challenged hero is a great hero!
But we also need to see heroes learn, adapt, and become a better version of themselves, or their victory is hollow and unearned, or just sort of: “Yeah, that wasn’t too bad”, and that’s exactly the response I had to this entire production.
I can tell that The Dark Tower is supposed to be a sweeping epic, and I know its reputation. Stephen King’s material has turned out some duds for sure, but is also responsible for one of my favorite films ever: The Shining (which this actually ties into, and in fact, The Dark Tower connects to all of King’s works into a shared universe with many dimensions. Sound familiar?) I’m sure that fans of the book or people who were extremely excited for this were very let down, however it was a fairly fun, if average afternoon summer movie for a non-fan. I’m hoping that major fans get truly satisfied in years to come with a better movie, or maybe more appropriately, a TV mini-series like a lot of King’s other work. Heck, call Idris Elba in again too, he’s a great actor and could probably make Roland a truly memorable character with a better script. Until then, I’m gun-slinging The Dark Tower a firm 2.5 out of 5 MF’s, this is a Redbox flick for sure.
The Dark Tower Gets
2.5 out of 5