‘The Dark Tower’ Review: Fantasy Fun on Fast Forward

Drew Dietsch
Movies
Movies
2.5
of 5
Review Essentials
  • Trio of great lead actors
  • Exciting action
  • Breakneck pacing
  • Scenes don't get time to breathe
  • World-building done too quickly
  • A decent entry point to the series

The Dark Tower is the structure that holds together all of existence. If the Tower falls, the universe will be swallowed by darkness and fire. Young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been having visions of the Tower, and he’s soon transported to the desolate realm of Mid-World where he meets Roland (Idris Elba), the last guardian of the Dark Tower. But, Roland is consumed with vengeance and is focused on hunting the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) instead of protecting the Tower. Can Jake set him on the right path?

Shoot With Your Mind

The Dark Tower
Roland (Idris Elba) teaches Jake (Tom Taylor) the gunslinger's creed

When dealing with any adaptation, there has to be a willingness on the part of the audience to accept the movie on its own terms. No other adaptation might be as deserving of this as The Dark Tower. It’s technically a sequel to Stephen King’s sprawling fantasy saga, and any story beats or familiar elements that fans pick up on need to be appraised within the film’s own context. To harp on the differences or translation of the novels to the screen will only get you bogged down in criticisms that don’t really have to do with the movie itself.

With that said, The Dark Tower is okay. In fact, it’s really not that bad.  The story and character motivations are clearly defined and followed through, and the action of the film is always engaging and fun. Director Nikolaj Arcel has a steady hand and he manages to wrangle a mainstream tale out of the copious weirdness inherent in the concept.

The film’s anchors are its three leads. Idris Elba’s Roland is appropriately stoic and awesome, Matthew McConaughey’s Man in Black is an old-fashioned “love to hate” villain (his casual evil in killing people is always a delight on screen), and Tom Taylor’s Jake Chambers is a heartwarming proxy for all of us going along with this journey. If it weren’t for this trio being so on point, it’s possible that the movie might not work.

Kill With Your Heart

The Dark Tower man in black roland
The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) taunts Roland

Because there is a core problem with The Dark Tower that hinders the entire film: it is a relentlessly paced motion picture. It’s no secret that the movie has undergone an immense trimming down. You don’t even need to know about the troubled production to see that. It’s apparent when watching the film. Scenes move at breakneck speed with very little time for anything to breathe. This works well for the action segments, but the entire movie falls victim to this and it’s a fatal flaw.

So much exposition and world-building has to be done with quick lines of dialogue or hasty visual explanations. To be fair, this does keep the movie from ever dragging. But, it also prevents us from getting close enough to the characters to completely care for them. It makes a lot of dramatic beats feel unearned or empty. It also keeps us from experiencing the wonder we want when visiting such a fantastical world. There’s simply no time for any of that as far as The Dark Tower is concerned.

Is The Dark Tower Good?

the dark tower
The Dark Tower is under attack

It’s on the fence. There’s nothing horrendous or offensively bad about the movie, but it’s just too preoccupied with racing towards the finish line to stick with you in a meaningful way. It is a testament to the world and the characters that I would have welcomed an additional hour of movie to flesh things out. If nothing else, that does prove that this doesn’t have to be the end of this franchise. Hopefully, we’ll get another chance to go around with Roland, Jake, and the Man in Black. If not, what we have serves as a decent enough entry point into a much larger and captivating world.

In short: if it gets you to read the books, it’s done its job.

Drew Dietsch
Drew Dietsch has written for CHUD.com, the News-Press, WhatCulture, and releases a weekly film review podcast, The Drew Reviews Podcast. He'll yak your ear off about horror movies, Jaws, RoboCop, and/or Batman if you let him.
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