Review Rating: 7 out of 10
Spoilers guard the Dark Tower too!
To begin, Jake (Tom Taylor) is a kind-of-sort-of-not-really ordinary boy with just one or two problems, like oh, nightmares when New York suffers earthquakes, which is a little too often for it to be coincidental. Jake suffers awful visions in his nightmares, of a precious tower out there somewhere, according to the beginning, at the center of the universe; sure, fine, and the legendary Gunslinger too. And children being tortured for some sinister purpose by peoples with overlaid human skin, not really-real humans but some kind of nasties that work for the Man in Black. And inevitably, Jake proceeds to make a ton of drawings of the stuff plaguing his dreams, which of course drives his mom and stepfather to distraction, since no-one ever believes the kids, especially when they should. When the parental units decide to ship Jake off to a “mental health retreat”, oh just for the weekend to see how he likes it, really, promise, some of these not-human skinjobs Jake’s been talking about show up to cart him away, and he bolts.
Not a damned thing in this movie is coincidental in the least, so Jake manages to find himself in a supposedly abandoned tenement building somewhere in Manhattan, that loudly displays ALL HAIL THE CRIMSON KING graffiti, and houses not only a portal to other worlds, but some kind of guardian monster too. Jake girds his loins and makes the jump through the portal to what’s called Mid-World, where endless desert eventually does give way to civilization of sorts, and of course there he meets the legendary Gunslinger.
And what do we know about the Gunslinger? What makes the Gunslinger (Idris Alba) a legend all across the various worlds? He (or she, don’t get cocky on me now) guards the Tower against all comers who wish to do it harm, he treads the varied worlds with his magical guns and takes on villains like the Man in Black. The current incarnation of the Gunslinger is a bit more broken than most though, since Walter (Matthew McConaughey), which is the actual name of the sorcerer dude in his all-blacks, killed his father and forced Roland Deschain into becoming the next Gunslinger, whether he wanted to or was ready for it, or not. See, because, personal revenge is unbecoming of the legend of the Gunslingers.
There’s a bunch of hullaballoo about Jake being made of “pure shine”, which is the Mid-World way of talking about his psychic potential, enough to take down the Tower all by his lonesome, in theory. And as soon as Walter figures this out, he wants nothing more than to kidnap Jake to strap him into the child torture machine for his own dastardly purposes. While Walter and Roland are playing chase each-other across the worlds, Jake’s well-meaning parental units get themselves taken out of the equation, which of course leaves all sorts of sequel potentials open. And purportedly for his own safety, the Gunslinger begins to teach Jake the rudiments of gunslinging and the Gunslingers Creed, which has far too much to do with Father issues in my opinion. The big nasty final battle between Gunslinger Roland Deschain and the Sorcerer Walter is coming, and we are armed with Excalibur-level weaponry and the legendary Creed to buoy our hearts, once more into the breach dear friends, to destroy monsters and save the worlds!
After all that lead-up and lead-in, the ending battle is very anticlimactic. The reach-around to the legend of the Gunslinger at the last minute seems almost apologetic, because somehow, despite all his magics and lackies and machines, the sorcerer Walter can’t seem to get a handle on Roland Deschain at all. He’s destined to be the reluctant hero, I get that totally, but doing it in this ham-fisted manner is unworthy of the legend of the Gunslinger.
The film honestly can’t seem to make up its mind what it wants to be – fantasy drama, Scifi adventure, horror Elder Gods style, or what – but the husband summed it up best when he said, “I don’t remember Stephen King ever writing YA.” Rather than trying to pioneer a style of its own, as King himself did when he wrote the books the movie is supposed to be based on, the film just takes samples from other well-proven tropes and tries to smash them together in a way they think we want. I kind of wanted to ask the script-writers, “Have you read the Dark Tower books?”
It’s not that Roland the Gunslinger is played by a black actor; seriously, in this day and age nobody really cares anymore, and everyone agrees Idris Alba is a perfectly fine actor. Its not that McConaughey is a bad choice for the Man in Black either – he does a perfectly serviceable job for the character he was given to play, but it’s just not enough. The Man in Black is supposed to be feared across entire worlds, and while up close and personal he certainly is terrifying, his reputation far and wide doesn’t seem to precede him as it should. It’s not even that young Jake doesn’t seem fazed at all to find himself going through portals to other planets, or camping with the legendary Gunslinger, or taking on a sorcerer that wants to let in the outer darkness that the tower is holding back. It’s that none of this neat-o stuff gets enough screen time to be emphatic enough for the audience to give a damn. King has a whole series of Gunslinger books, but this first attempt at making his books into an establishing-first movie in a hopeful series, the movie has too many conflicting styles and never enough of any one of them. It’s kind of exhausting.
Of all the King-related stories released this year – the new record-breaking IT movie, Gerald’s Game on Netflix, The Mist and Mr. Mercedes on TV – it is very sad that the film adaptation of one of his longest-running novel series is the one that seems to have utterly bombed. If we the audience were completely unaware that it’s meant to be a Stephen King joint, we might have actually enjoyed the movie more, that’s how pathetic the showing actually is. Suspend your disbelief if you can, there are some great action and CGI sequences in the movie, so that’s something.
Visit The Dark Tower out on DVD and Blu-ray now and available on Netflix now!