‘The Dark Tower’ Finally Gives Stephen King Fans Their Gunslinger | Film Review

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

This is the sentence Stephen King wrote as a young and budding author back in 1970, and then took another 30+ years to finish the story that phrase was based on. The Dark Tower has been in the blood and DNA of rabid King fans for pretty much their whole lives. I started the first book in the early 90’s, and since then, wondered when will they finally come out with a movie. Most other King properties have already made to the big screen. Why not a story this layered, this rich with mythology?

As I read further into the series and ultimately finished it, I realized there is no possible way this could make it to the big screen and hold entirely true to the books. The story reached our hearts, and took us along a journey of focus, pain and unbreakable friendships. Stephen King brought us to a universe filled with his own heart and soul. This was his magnum opus.

Since 2007, studios brought promises to the fans, only to break them. Time and time again have we pumped our fists into the air reading the latest “The Dark Tower film will be directed by……” and “the cast has been picked for…….” only to find out some entity dropped production because the story is just TOO BIG and complex. I don’t blame them. You can’t just thrust the average movie viewer into the setting of Mid-World and expect everybody to pick up the pieces and follow along.

Then, earlier this year, the trailer for The Dark Tower came out. It was promising. Yes, we all didn’t expect Idris Elba to be cast as Roland, but in the end, the fans accepted the accomplished actor as one who could easily play a tortured hero. Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black was a home run to both readers and non-readers alike. Who wouldn’t want to see good ol’ McConaughey play a suave smooth talkin’ devil? Am I right, am I right, am I right?

Nikolaj Arcel (a Danish Director best known for 2012’s A Royal Affair and credited for screenwriting the latest Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) had finally taken the helm. This was after big sluggers like JJ Abrams and Ron Howard dropped the responsibilities because they knew there was just too much reverence for King’s masterwork. Arcel definitely had some big shoes to fill.

If you look at the cast for such an epic adventure, the list is surprisingly small. A month before release, we also got news that the story was a brief 95 minutes long. Heck, some TV comedies can run longer than that.

But knowing this was going to be a potential franchise starter, and after screening the film, it is obvious the screenwriters didn’t want to cram 30+ years of Stephen King’s Dark Tower lore into one movie. With things like time travel, flashbacks, parallel universes and crossovers into other King stories, the film industry would have an ulcer trying to portray this to the average movie-goer.

So walk in knowing this, The Dark Tower film is a very watered down version of a few instances from scenes in the book series. This was a good move to introduce the universe to casual viewers, and that aforementioned 95 minute runtime also made the movie feel like it didn’t drag on. As King tweeted, the movie is all killer and no filler.

This review will dance around the specifics of the plot, as I feel the less known walking in, the better for the uninitiated. In the end, all that matters is if the film works on its own merits. Not on reader expectation, nor based on comparisons to comparable properties. Does THIS cast and THIS director give it their all and leave us with a movie that can lead us into a franchise full of untapped potential?

First and foremost, Idris Elba DELIVERED!!! Yes, this is the Roland that I have wished for since I first began this journey. A tortured hero finding his way to protect the Dark Tower against the elusive Man in Black for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Elba was the stoic, brooding badass we needed. And every single scene he was in, I was eating it up.

Matthew McConaughey played evil incarnate to a “T.” There were a few scenes where his dialogue seemed a bit forced and McConaughey came dangerously close to teetering over the line, but I can overlook that. By now, everyone is keenly aware of McConaughey’s talents, and as the Man in Black, he’s savoring a virtual buffet of dialogue dining.

Tom Taylor plays the key pivotal role in this take on the narrative as Jake Chambers. In all honesty, this character was the weak point of the film. Don’t stone me, Dark Tower book fans, but Jake also needed nuanced character development in the book series as well. Taylor has the young naïve look that comes with this character, but Tom seemed a little too old to play this very young boy put into Mid-World against his will. Not to say Taylor carried the role poorly, just that he seemed a bit too mature to play Jake Chambers as written here. And if the franchise becomes successful, they might need to hunt down an anti-aging pill for Tom.

The Dark Tower definitely had a few sections where it dragged a bit, though as a longtime fan, I was doing my best to shut my “fan-boy” glee eyes and watch the movie with a critical viewpoint. Oddly, the action often arises in random spurts, so you might wonder if that hurt the rhythm of the movie? A little. Though the stimulating visuals definitely made up for what it lacked in story flow.

After a swift set-up and brisk unfolding of King’s core ideas, the ending of The Dark Tower is satisfactory. Your mind will not be blown, but it left off as open-ended as we fans would wish, while closing itself off without leaving too many newcomers in the dark wondering if that second film will ever come.

As an avid reader of The Dark Tower books (3rd time reading it…though I cheated the 2nd time by “Ristening”), I greatly appreciated the nods throughout the movie to fans like me. Do I want to see another one, or the purported TV series? YES PLEASE! Will it happen? I don’t know. Worse movies have come up with sequels, and this is far from a bad movie. I just hope it has enough legs for it to overcome minor criticisms and become the successful expanded universe it deserves to be.

Because Ka knows, there simply aren’t enough franchises with stories as unique as The Dark Tower.

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed. This is the sentence Stephen King wrote as a young and budding author back in 1970, and then took another 30+ years to finish the story that phrase was based on. The Dark Tower has been in the blood…
Performances - 7.5
Story - 6.5
Production - 7

7

The Dark Tower finally hits theaters after years of development, and the beam shines.

Listen to our reactions podcast on The Dark Tower HERE
The Dark Tower releases in theaters nationwide August 4, 2017
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Nikolaj Arcel
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel

About Dustin Baker

An artist myself, I have a deep respect and appreciation for the efforts put into one’s work. I view a film not from my own often heightened expectations, but instead through the lens with which the filmmakers intended.

  • Karen S. Thompson-Peterson

    Nice review Dustin. I will see this on Monday and am super excited, as I have been a King fan from day one!