The Dark Tower may be the most “nothing” movie that I’ve watched in a long time. I left it feeling nothing particularly positive or negative. It was as if I had just watched the movie equivalent of white bread.
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A young boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), has been troubled by visions since the tragic death of his father. His mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), believes that Jake’s father’s death traumatized him and left him with some kind of mental issues. It turns out that Jake actually has a strong “Shine” or psychic abilities. His Shine is allowing him to see events that are occurring on another world. This world is inhabited by Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and Walter O’Dim aka The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey).
The Man in Black seeks to destroy the Dark Tower that stands at the center of all creation. As Roland describes it, creation is a set of parallel worlds that are surrounded by darkness. The Man in Black is an acolyte of the darkness and wishes to see it take over existence. If he destroys the tower, the monsters that live in the darkness will take over and destroy all of the different worlds. The Gunslingers have been pitted against the Man in Black in order to stop this from happening. Unfortunately for the Gunslingers, the Man in Black is the wielder of very powerful, persuasive magics. Among other non-disclosed abilities, the Man in Black seems to be able to order a person to do anything from killing another person to, simply stopping their breathing. He uses these powers to wipe out all of the gunslingers, with the exception of Roland who seems to be immune to his magic for some reason.
While Roland hunts the Man in Black looking for revenge, the Man in Black hunts for children who have a strong enough Shine to destroy the tower. Of course, this leads the Man in Black and his minions to Jake. Just as the minions are coming to retrieve Jake, his visions point him to a location in his world. Jake runs away and heads to this abandoned house where he finds a portal to the world that he’s been seeing in his dreams.
When Jake lands in this new world, he is able to quickly find the gunslinger. However, Roland is more run down that Jake was expecting. Roland has given up on his gunslinger creed and only lives to take revenge. As they travel together, Jake is able to rekindle Roland’s desire to protect existence and take down the Man in Black for revenge and the good of creation. As Roland and the Man in Black hunt each other across worlds, a trail of bodies is left in the Man in Black’s wake. Most notably Jake’s mother and step father are killed.
Eventually, Jake is captured by the Man in Black, forcing Roland to mount a one man rescue mission. As Jake resists letting his powers to be used to destroy the tower, Roland mows down the Man in Black’s minions. Hoping to force Jake into a state of despair, the Man in Black decides to take on Roland directly. He gets the upper hand on Roland but, after hearing the Gunslinger creed from Jake, Roland is able to kill the Man in Black. After that, he destroys the machine that was being used to attack the tower. With the job done, Roland heads back to his word and takes Jake with him.
- Apparently, the not-so-subtle connection to another Stephen King work, “The Shinning”, is not an accident. Jake’s Shine is supposed to be the same psychic powers that Danny Torrance has in the Stanley Kubrick movie (and the Stephen King book). This is a step in the Dark Tower series connecting the different Stephen King movies.
- At one point is is implied that Jake’s visions span a much larger amount of time than we are lead to believe. When he mentions seeing Roland’s father in a vision from the beginning of the movie, we find out that Roland’s father has been dead for years.
What did I think?
I think my opening statement kind of summed it up, but I wasn’t a fan of this movie. Before I continue, I should acknowledge that I am not a fan of the books, nor have I read them. While watching the movie I got the strong sense that there was a lot going on that was a reference to the books. After watching the movie, I found out that the movie is somewhat of a sequel to the books. With that in mind, it makes sense that I probably didn’t get some things out of the movie that may have been intended. That being said, standing on the existing books doesn’t excuse the movie from having to stand on its own.
For the most part, the movie feels like it lacks any kind of stakes and fails to allow you to invest in the characters. It’s strange, because the “idea” of what’s going on is actually interesting. The idea of the Man in Black should be scary. The idea of all of creation being overrun by monsters should feel like high stakes. The long running conflict between Roland and the Man in Black should feel like an epic struggle. All of these things should happen, but none of them do. The funny thing is, I can’t really tell why these things don’t work. Maybe it’s that I didn’t read the books. Maybe it’s because the movie is trying to cram a lot of history into a sparse hour and thirty minute runtime. Maybe it’s just a lot of little things compounding on top of each other.
For example, I knew that the Man in Black was supposed to be one big bad dude. The movie backs this up by letting him just slaughter and maim people in almost every scene he’s in. However, the movie somehow fails to make any of these deaths land with any weight. Even the huge moment of the Man in Black burning Jake’s mother to dust doesn’t quite hit home. Intellectually, I understood that this was a big moment and a messed up thing for Jake to have to experience. I just never felt it.
There are hints of things working in the movie. The relationship between Jake and his mother has a couple of heartfelt moments that actually land. Matthew McConaughey completely looks the part of a sleek, mystical bad guy. Elba and McConaughey play off of each other relatively well. There’s even a couple of cool action moments (although one of them was shown extensively in the previews). Despite that, the movie never really hits a stride or links these things up into something worth watching.
Maybe if I were a full fledged movie critic, I would have more insights into what this movie could’ve done to work better or what it did that made it not work. However, since I’m not, I’ll just leave it as simply saying that I didn’t like this movie and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they’re big fans of the book series.
The Dark Tower (2017)
- McConaughey and Elba's on screen presence and chemistry is about the only good thing about this movie
- Seems to rely heavily on the audience having previous knowledge of, and investment in, the characters
- Manages to a make a villain that should be objectively scary, a non factor