“For centuries, the gunslingers were knights. Sworn to protect this from the coming of the dark. Now I’m the only one left.” – Roland Deschain, The Dark Tower (2017).
My friends can be slotted into two different groups in regard to this film. On the one hand we have people saying this film is terrible levels of bad. So bad in fact that they would never watch this film again. On the other hand we have the friends who haven’t got a single clue what this film is about. I wish I was in that second group, because after watching The Dark Tower I can safely say I completely hated it. But, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey starring in a film together, what could go wrong? To answer that question we must first look at what has gone right.
To showcase what has gone right, there really isn’t much I can do. There’s not a whole lot that this film actually manages to get right. For all the nice opening shots and the mystery it entailed, there was no substance to it. Now I’ll say it blatantly, I have not read The Dark Tower book from Stephen King. However, I still haven’t read The Shining and I watched the film adaptation with no trouble whatsoever. Maybe that’s because the source material is a lot simpler. While The Shining is a horror, The Dark Tower seems to be much more of a sci-fi thriller.
What I did not expect is the escalating use of cliches throughout this. I’m not talking action set pieces and the cliches that come along with them, but they are in this film. No, I’m talking about how there’s a picture of his dad in a photo frame to symbolise he’s no longer part of the family. They even play the sad music and crying child bullshit as a way of trying to get us emotionally attached. As you can probably tell, it really didn’t work all that well. See you can emotionally manipulate an audience as much as you like, it won’t work if your dialogue is lacking in quality though. Five minutes in and he had a therapist and they were talking about that dad of his. Wouldn’t be surprised if his dad turned out to be the Matthew McConaughey.
I’ve reviewed a lot of films, and I’ve watched a hell of a lot more (almost 1,000 at time of writing). What I can safely assure you is that this is in fact a bad film. After about ten minutes I was ready to call it a day just because of how uselessly cliche it is. Every “unexpected twist” is expected, it can be seen from a mile off. See, the direction may or may not have been passable, I’m honestly not sure at this point. I couldn’t pay attention to the direction because I was far too focused on everything else being such a large mess.
Mind you, it’s not all horrible. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, although working with a lifeless script, do manage some fairly fine performances. Specifically McConaughey in that regard, who, as the Man in Black, does some great work. Although lower rated than his Oscar rated Dallas Buyers Club (2014), I would say he gives a better performance here. Maybe it’s because he plays villains well. The best performance I’ve seen him give this year is when he presented a category at the Oscars though. As for Elba, if he weren’t weighed down by the kid for almost the entire film then I am sure he would’ve provided an exceptional performance. To be fair I’m basing that off of Prometheus (2011), so I could be wrong.
Aside from performances, the special effects and CGI, while empty, was rather impressive. CGI shouldn’t be used for the sake of using it, but that’s not something The Dark Tower really listens to. Eventually the film turns into something as idiotic as Monster House (2007), the CGI monsters flying about all over the place. Actually there is a fair bit throughout the second act of the film but not much in the way that would be useful for the story. At times it is overused, but other times it is underutilised.
That was a prime issue throughout this film, how truly bad the dialogue is. I’m sure Stephen King’s book has some stellar lines in there, albeit a shaky premise. So to replicate a book with presumably the same depth and cram it all into an hour and a half is a very poor idea. But why doesn’t it work here? It has and will continue to work for other films in this genre. I hate to make another reference to it, but The Shining (1980) and even Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) managed this perfectly well. Adaptations of books can never be perfect of course, there has to be a level of
Usually, Stephen King adaptations are pretty good (bar The Langoliers (1995) of course). The Dark Tower has an ominous and enjoyable tone to it but for the most part it really does manage to fail spectacularly. No attempt is made to capture the acting abilities and charisma of the cast. Idris Elba feels like a generic action hero, rather than what I assume should be a dark and brooding elderly figure to contrast that shitty child actor. There are no good performances here. There’s an episode of The Trip (2010) where Steve Coogan states some projects are for money and others are for artistic release. I agree with that, but then what does this make The Dark Tower?
Maybe it is worth reading the book, primarily so I can learn whatever the fuck was going on throughout this hour and a half. Some context would be duly helpful, especially considering the film doesn’t bother explaining itself. I’m not expecting a compendium of what is happening and why, but I need to know what is going on. I also need to know who thought it was a good idea to greenlight a sequel to this? Whoever that was, that was a very bold move now wasn’t it. Considering this one tanked at the box office and everything. Reform the cast, get some better writers in, and for the most part, get a new soundtrack and director. Some films are so bad they are good. Some films are so bad they annoy you. This film falls into the latter category.