The Dark Tower is one of two films based on Stephen King novels coming out in the next two months, and it’s the one I was hoping most to succeed. Unfortunately, months of alleged troubled production, along with a boring and uninspired screenplay, and TV-quality visual effects all add up to make one of the most forgettable movies I’ve seen since Rings.
Despite the source material’s meaty premise, the film keeps things pretty simple. The Dark Tower creates a powerful forcefield around an infinite number of worlds and it keeps monsters out. The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) wants to bring the tower down and Roland (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger is on a quest to stop him. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a kid who lives on Earth sees Roland and The Man in Black in his dreams, and he manages to make his way into Mid-World where they reside.
Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, every second of the film is focused on hurtling towards a climactic fight between Roland and The Man in Black. That’s a bummer because the world that’s introduced, as I’m sure any fan of the series knows, is incredibly interesting. Why is The Man in Black so evil? Who were the mysterious Gunslingers? Who are the monsters working for The Man in Black? All of these questions and more popped into my head while I watched the movie, and absolutely none of them were answered.
The Gunslinger’s Creed ends with the line, “You kill with your heart,” and while you hear that line more than once throughout the movie, as far as the plot’s concerned they’re just magic words. I couldn’t help but sigh out-loud when I heard them because they’re emblematic of the main thing The Dark Tower is lacking – heart. Excluding Roland and Jake Chambers, nobody in this film feels like anything other than a plot point. Line delivery is almost painfully dry at points, and the actors who are genuinely giving it their best shot are scarcely given anything close to the screen time necessary to do a good job. It’s almost as if the filmmakers didn’t want the audience to be able to focus on any one scene for more than a couple seconds so they cut them down as much as they possibly could.
The film’s saving grace is in its locations. Thanks to the fact that the plot takes place in many different places with equally varied terrain, there’s a lot of pretty scenery to take in. There’s also plenty of stock footage of New York City to gawk at, and the street level scenes do a better job of capturing what it’s actually like there. Finally, the few glimpses you get of the tower the film is named after are breathtaking as it spires up through the clouds.
My favorite part of the film takes place when Roland and Jake are making their way through a misty forest and have to fight a monster. It’s actually the only time in the film where the fight choreography, the visual effects, and the dialog fit together well and brought up some excitement and genuine tension. It’s also one of the only action scenes that hadn’t been spoiled for me by official marketing.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise but nearly every good joke and fight scenes are spoiled in the movie’s trailer. Even more unforgivable is that there isn’t a single reference to Stephen King’s other works that remains unspoiled by the trailer either. The final nail in the coffin comes during the anticlimactic final showdown where the visual effects take a dive to the level of cable TV. It’s honestly pretty confusing since during the rest of the movie I wasn’t really turned off by the vast majority of the effects.
The Dark Tower isn’t a bad movie, it’s just a massively disappointing one. It’s the literal definition of a heartless cash grab, but unlike Universal’s ill-fated Dark Universe, it tells a coherent tale that can definitely be expanded on in much better ways going forward. If you’re looking for a spooky action flick that lets you turn your brain off for 87 minutes before ultimately forgetting it, The Dark Tower might be worth checking out. If you can hold out another week, Annabelle: Creation is much more worth your time and money.