Well, it’s finally here. The moment of truth. The Dark Tower is here. Due to work schedules we hit up the Thursday night screening, so we got to see the very first showing in our theater. That was pretty cool in itself; me and the other half, my fellow Dark Tower nerd sister, and our elder spawn whose namesake is the main character of this series. This was a big night, and some of us were quite nervous to see how it would turn out. How could we possibly flesh out a world with such dense lore and connection to so many other things and make a satisfying movie with only 95 minutes of runtime? Well folks, that’s what we’re here to talk about today. This is a spoiler-free review and I’m going to try and keep it a little more succinct than some of my other ones. Because this is The Dark Tower though, I will also be posting a second review which will be spoiler-heavy, lore-discussing, and hardcore nerdy. I’ll link that separately. So let’s get to it.
First off, a word to anyone who has read the books. Don’t go into this expecting a direct adaptation of that story. Even Stephen King himself has said to think of this as a continuation of the story. Anyone who has read the whole series will understand what that means. For those who haven’t, I expect it won’t make much of a difference either way. I’m just putting it out there as someone who has been reading this series so long I don’t actually remember when I started. I know I say something like that for seemingly every review, but much like Spider-Man, The Dark Tower is something very, very close to my heart at a level most fandom-things simply can’t reach. I just like to put my biases up front.
Let’s start with the cast. A lot of people were up in arms about Idris Elba’s casting as the Gunslinger. And yes, he might not look the way Roland is described in the book.
You know what though, he is damn fine in this role. He brings Roland to life. I feel that character in his mannerisms, in his speech, and how he carries himself. It is absolutely all there. As soon as I heard Matthew McConaughey’s casting as The Man in Black, I was sold. And he is just as good as I thought he’d be. He’s every bit as vicious and slimy and calculating, and almost charming as I’d hoped without becoming goofy. I didn’t know anything about Tom Taylor before this but I really enjoyed his performance as Jake Chambers. There’s a great potential for growth in his character in later installments (should they be made) and it will be interesting to see how he goes forward and if the trajectory is similar to the books, because there were hints of that. The rest of the cast does a really good job too with some familiar characters, and some new ones as well. It’s a big positive from me. The action was really fun as well, and Roland got some amazingly badass scenes where you really see the gunslingers of old come to life.
I did also like the look of the movie a lot. When you’re combing genres like this, the way the world looks makes a big impact on that. Mid-World (Roland’s world) is post-nuclear-apocalypse in which that apocalypse was so long ago that the remnants of the people have rebuilt and anything remaining of the old world are ancient ruins, their purposes often forgotten. And it looks really cool. We do also spend time in New York, but it looks like a city so there’s not really much to say about it. I want to see more of Mid-World, and hopefully some familiar places later on down the road because this movie really does look fantastic. I would comment about the score that goes with it, but to be honest, I don’t remember anything from the score. Maybe I was too busy looking for nods to the books and other Stephen King works (of which there are several), but the score just wasn’t memorable.
As I said earlier, the story doesn’t exactly follow the book(s). I’d made my peace with that, so I tried to take this film as its own thing. The story is interesting, sort of a combination of elements from the books told in a bit different way. So while that wasn’t a bad thing itself, it was really… condensed. As I said, this movie was 95 minutes. It should have been at least two hours. I hate to say it dumbed things down, but that’s kinda what it did. If they continue, I’d like to see them expand on both the lore and the world more, because it really is a fascinating thing that Stephen King created with Mid-World. I’d hate to see all that incredible story go to waste. On the flip side of that, if it had gone too deep then maybe we’d have too much of a Warcraft issue where it was too alienating of people unfamiliar with the source material. We did get some good nods and callbacks and hints along the way that set up things really well, they just need to act on that going forward.
Okay, so the cons. I already outlined my first issue above, in that it was too short and too much of the world glossed over. There is one thing, and it would really only be a problem for fans, so take that however you will but it is my biggest issue. There are a couple of things that Roland says that I just can’t forgive. They are just so egregiously out of character. I don’t know why they decided to go that route, but if there was anything I actively disliked about this movie, it was those couple of things where Roland wasn’t Roland. Again, if you know nothing about the series, it probably wouldn’t be an issue. I’m going to do deeper into all of this in the spoiler review, if you’re interested.
In conclusion, The Dark Tower was actually better than I feared it would be. The cast was excellent and everything looked great. I had a few story issues, but it wasn’t nearly the worst thing in the world, and I thought it was better than a lot of the buzz I’m hearing. Would I have rather seen a loving, page-for-page adaptation of the book like a sci-fi/western/fantasy Lord of the Rings? Absolutely, but that’s not what we got. I hope we can only get better from here and grow it into the epic tale that it is and deserves to be on the big screen. One can only hope. So would I recommend it? Yes, but with caveats. It really is good, but it’s not great the way it should have been and I hope they can improve if this goes forward.