I just got back from seeing The Dark Tower and honestly, “It’s complicated” is not a thumbs up OR a thumbs down. It’s just…complicated. I don’t hate it. I probably won’t go see it again in the theater. I read some reviews after I got home and I get some people’s points but I also realize that the thing I thought going in was the thing that was going to make people prone to hating this movie.
ONE MILLION SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING AHEAD INCLUDING HOW YOU WILL DIE (maybe).
There is no way to make Stephen King’s weird novels AS THEY ARE WRITTEN into a movie, a TV show, the next Game of Thrones or a video game. Because nobody but nobody would watch it for more than an hour. In any form. Let’s see. The first story, The Gunslinger, is the story of a guy who chases the Man in Black, kills a whole town, kills a kid who helped him, then catches the Man in Black all so he can get his fortune told and then fall asleep for 1000 years or whatever and when he wakes up the Man in Black is a skeleton.
Riveting! Someone get me a camera!
On the other hand, if you just said you were going to make a movie where there was a cowboy chasing a wizard who was trying to destroy the world with a really old machine (that was somehow also more advanced than anything anyone ever saw) to knock down a tower that holds up all the worlds you have successfully explained the books and also been kicked out of the Movie Idea Club. Other worlds, indeed.
So here is the way the movie worked. I am going to assume that you are a King nerd and will understand all this. If you aren’t then go back and read the cowboy chasing the wizard sentence.
Jake Chambers is a kid who has visions and draws pictures of the Man in Black, the Tower and the Gunslinger. He also sees that there are people who have fake skin (and they are bad, as you would expect). His mom and stepfather think he’s nuts. The real father is dead for some reason. And of course Jake is right. There are people with fake skin and they come to get him. He gets away though and finds the Mansion on Dutch Hill. He gets through the portal and into Mid-World and then we sort of…don’t explain much anymore. And that is one of my big problems. But I am not sure if it bothers me because I read the books or because I feel badly for people who didn’t. I legit don’t know.
See, they hit all the notes at one point or another.
- Roland is the last Gunslinger and the last of the line of Eld
- His guns are made from Arthur Eld’s sword (on Keystone Earth it’s called Excalibur!)
- The world has moved on.
- Nobody knows what the old machines were.
- The Tower holds up all the worlds.
- Walter is a jerk.
- Maerlyn’s Rainbow
They also have a million King Easter eggs. It’s fun and actually isn’t distracting. But then they have some things that sort of…make it more wobbly than it should be. Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Taylor are amazing. Honestly. If you read reviews giving any of them any crap, punch that review in the face. The actors and their performances are NOT the issue.
But there is an issue. See, if you read the Variety article about the production, you find out that they screened it and people didn’t understand it so they:
Sony and MRC spent $6 million on reshoots to fill in more backstory about Elba’s character’s hatred for McConaughey’s Man in Black. In addition, to better familiarize audiences with Mid-World, the film’s magical setting, five minutes of exposition were cut and a new scene was shot to combine ideas that had been sprinkled throughout the picture.
They should have left the exposition in, or added other exposition. Because if the movie falls down, it is in getting people excited about seeing more. Did they kill Walter? Sure? No? Maybe? I think it is not super likely McConaughey would come back but you could bring him back. But why would you? See, the nugget of what is wrong with this movie is why The Dark Tower can’t be a regular movie.
They show you the tower right away and don’t explain the beams and the Breakers have the Shining and Jake can bring the Tower down alone. He’s like a super Ted Brautigan. The Crimson King is written on the walls but never mentioned. You don’t know why Sayre is supposed to be tough (he dies really dumb) and they don’t sell the “Darkness” that still needs to be fought even though Walter is dead. So when Roland and Jake leave Keystone Earth at the end like it’s a buddy cop movie, there is no real reason for it. It gives you everything but it is sort of weightless. There are no stakes. And every fan of the books who is probably yelling at me right now should consider this:
King made it all up as he went along. He had no plan. Not like J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter. And more than likely you can picture SCENES from the books you would like to see (gunfight at Balazar’s). Or CHARACTERS you would like to see (ZOMG Eddie). But tell me how badly you want to have the Crimson King destroyed by a B character with a sketch pad from a different book that just shows up right near the end. Or Stephen King being in it? How about Mordred? Any Mordred fans out there?
Which brings me to my final thoughts, and why the banner pic says what it says. They tried to make a story that honestly makes zero sense into a movie. They played up the King insider knowledge (my showing started at 7:19 – 19:19 get it?) but didn’t deliver enough source material to keep the fan boys happy. But they also relied too much on fan boys being a big part of the audience so they didn’t explain enough of what was happening to the uninitiated.
I hope they get to the TV series. I think if they do Wizard and Glass they can get some mythology across and that is one of the only actual stories in the series so it would be easier. The actors were great. The problem is that the movie was a compromise and if it is a good compromise then everyone is a little bit mad. That’s not great when you are making movies I don’t think.
I want more of THIS Roland and THIS Jake and THIS Mid-World. And I really want MM to be Flagg in the Stand. My gah that would kill. Go see The Dark Tower. I don’t want the studios to get scared and not make anything else! And it is a good flick if you don’t have a lot of expectations based on the books.
Now let’s fight about it in the comments!
Here’s the biggest thing that bugged me: they don’t know what a frigging amusement park was, but the people in the village have generators and know how to power up and use the portal. I can buy Walter and his crew using that stuff, because that’s kind of the point, but the freaking goatherds can, too?
Second thing that bugged me: like you said, they leave room for a sequel but didn’t set up someplace for it to go. They should have included Roland wanting to reach the Tower itself, not just the revenge plot. I have to assume that, if they make a sequel following the TV show (which has a showrunner now but still no network), Roland and Jake will end up on a beach (or Advanced Beach Substitute) and the story will pick up from there.
Everything else I have to complain about is nitpicks (like “The man in black fled across the desert….” is a random voiceover in the middle of the film instead of the starting point?), but for what they made, I’d call it a solid, entertaining B-picture. Plus, Walter’s fate in this film is 1000x more satisfying than his fate in the actual books, and the Easter egg hunt is lots of fun (a Low Man in a Yellow Coat! A Rita Hayworth poster!)
I thought they undersold the whole idea of the “darkness” being separate from the Man in Black. But the fact that they never even mentioned the Crimson King (who I assume is the big bad they are building to) beyond graffiti is ridiculous. Not really sure why they made it all Lovecraft monsters.
If they make the show Wizard and Glass they can make us care who Roland is but they can’t make us care about the Tower since they already shot their wad regarding who was attacking it.
I think they can still make us care about the Tower if they do Wizard and Glass. Mostly because Roland’s quest for the Tower begins at the end of that story, as he rides off after massacreing Susan Delgado’s town. (Or am I misremembering?)
Also, in the books, some of the old machines still work but Roland doesn’t know what obvious things (to us) are.
The only time I really got irritable was about Jake’s parents, because it threatened to turn him into a completely different character, but it turned out fine for me.
Either way, it was still fun to watch (did you see the reference to Barlow at the end?)
No, I didn’t catch the Barlow reference, nor did I note that he’s actually carrying the Horn of Eld, but I guess that’s true, too. But he didn’t massacre Susan’s town; he did that to a different town in The Gunslinger. He left Susan to burn at the stake, his first sacrifice on his path to the Tower (second if you count the hawk).
Well he also killed all the bad guys in Susan’s town so that is massacre…ish. I saw Barlow and Straker Fine Furnishings at the end. They better not screw up the Cort thing.
I watched it twice: once by myself like a psycho, and once with a friend. I didn’t catch anything more the second time, but we both laughed uproariously at how ridiculous the scene is where Walter shoots the bullets back at Roland.
I read the series until partway through Wolves of the Calla, but that was ten years ago and I don’t remember a lot of it.