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Prior to seeing The Dark Tower, my only exposure to the series was via my housemate, who would routinely say the phrase "thankee sai" to strangers in casual conversation, working as a kind of secret handshake for those who bothered to read the seven book series. If he were to watch The Dark Tower film, he'd be sorely disappointed. Not once in the entire hour and a half run time is that phrase uttered.
Asides from that, I can't comment on how close the film is meant to be to the books. What I can say is The Dark Tower shows some promise early on and squanders it over the rest of the run time. For a story, we have a boy who has visions of a secret World of gunslingers and Devilish masterminds. Pretty soon he finds himself targeted by Matthew Mc Conaughey, who is looking for children to feed into a machine that shoots fireballs at a big tower. The boy finds himself in the care of Idris Elba's legendary gunslinger, Roland.
That's as good a set up as any. A big problem though is that the movie has to rush to establish a lot of seemingly superfluous elements. For instance, our boy is randomly attacked by a floorboard monster. Within 10 seconds, he's somehow gotten away from the floor and the scene ends. I was left scratching my head as to what the brief, bizarre exchange was about. "Oh, it was to steal his satchel!" I said, seeing it was now missing from the boy's shoulder. Then in the next shot later the satchel's back around him. "Nope, just a continuity error, back to being mystified". Mc Conaughey talks about the boy escaping as proof of his excellent "shine", but that wasn't evident to us in the cheap seats at all. These references to The Shining are opaque, and whilst I understand there is a giant singular canon for Stephen King fiction, that means nothing to us unenlightened. Other bizarre quirks, which I assume are inherited from the book, are exhibited haphazardly. Mc Conaughey mentions people "resist his magicks", which might have worked if it was said sardonically by a larger-than-life villain, but Mc Conaughey plays "The Man in Black" understated and po faced, so it sounds really stupid.
Idris Elba's Roland is understated too. He and the boy don't really establish any kind of friendship over the course of the story, they just do things for each other. This lack of rapport or humanity causes the film to drag. It's rushing yet somehow feels sluggish and dull at the same time. The trailer pretends there's constant adventure and gun fighting, but there isn't any such excitement for two thirds of the film. Even when the action comes around, all I could think about is how weedy and quiet Rowland's six shooters sound. How can a movie get even that wrong?
The Dark Tower has a lot of good elements; a novel concept, a pedigree franchise, a collection of fine actors, but these ingredients are simply pulped together into an insipid, mealy porridge.
Many times, Stephen King's work has failed on the big screen. From the get-go, PG-13 rating included, The Dark Tower follows in that lineage. Thankfully, though, it's not as bad as Dreamcatcher and King's own Shining miniseries. Cutting away exposition that hinders King movies, it instead receives the "disrespect" of distillation. However, it's this shortening I didn't mind as a King fan and moviegoer.
Best things first, this is a fast movie. The pace is never sluggish: fluid, yet not impatient. Idris Elba is wonderful as Roland, the Gunslinger. Learning to let go of revenge and focus on justice, his troubles are less whining to more purely motivated, albeit with demons. Tom Taylor as Jake is solid, with some well-done emotional moments including grieving over his mother, despite some flatter bits. A good moment is Roland's first time on Earth, replete with hookers and Coke cans. Though its introduction is slapdash, the
wasteland parallel to Earth is very well done, filled with nods aplenty to King's work. It becomes a little marvel alongside a nice game of I-Spy. The action scenes are also pretty pumping; I cheered when Roland rescued Jake from Walter's trackers ransacking the village with a well-placed shot. So, the good guys are solid, the sets well-done, and the action is great.
Alas, not all is well in adaptation-land. McConaughey's Walter feels like an odd extension of his Dodge-commercial persona: wildly powerful, making people act on his whims, killing them with a word. Yet, he's still McConaughey, with an evil mystique. He is a menace, but one I'd expect as a car salesman rather than as Randall Flagg; the archvillain of the King-verse. Instead, Walter's and the Crimson King's minions mince quite a bit, despite offering some creepy moments. The wasteland's child-slavery facility was well-designed: a dark pastiche of a suburb where children are used to destroy the tower. But what's it doing being run by a bunch of demonic IT interns? Again, these villains don't have much menace when they're not running and gunning. When it happens, it's quite fun.
The love I have for Dark Tower is a bit fatherly. I feel that others are rubbed the wrong way by this one, going by the crummy reviews. If its more commercial aspects were stripped away, I'd be even prouder to call this another decent King movie, one I see much potential in as is. Aside from some good action, it's 1/3 of a worried kid, another of a Dodge-commerical, and another of Idris Elba being Idris Elba. It bares its teeth despite the PG-13, though. Come as you are, don't worry about being offended, King-fan or not.
This is a movie for the fans.
Due to eternal recurrence shenanigans, it is equally accurate to call this movie an adaptation, a sequel, and a reboot of the novels. As such, it assembles a plot from elements of all the books, particularly The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Dark Tower. While several moments from the books make it into the movie, the context changes, as do the finer details. The one that jumped out at me is that Roland didn't pay for the bullets he took at gunpoint; this seems out of character, but the movie does portray him as a more bitter, cynical tarnished knight, so it does fit this particular interpretation.
The pacing has been criticised, but I liked it. The overall pace is brisk, and the characters mostly act intelligently given their circumstances. Idris Elba is great as Roland, Matthew McConaughey is interesting as Randall Flagg, and Tom Taylor plays a Jake Chambers who has been mashed up with Patrick Danville to make a tagalong kid who I didn't want to strangle.
But how does it fare with newcomers? Alas, not so well. Those who are familiar with the source material understand the stakes and why everything is happening, but in order to cut the movie to a lean hour and a half, it seems like quite a bit of exposition was dropped. Sure, people complain about clumsy exposition in other movies, but the audience is rather expected to pick up everything and figure it out for themselves. That... isn't the best way to get people invested.
Also, this movie it totally looking to set up the sort of shared multiverse that is all the rage right now.
My advice? Read the books first, and if you like them, you'll probably enjoy this.
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