The Dark Tower (2017)

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel

Contains spoilers.

Marketing campaigns for movies are usually not up to the standard of the movie. They're either worse than the film or better... rarely is the quality the same... The Dark Tower's marketing campaign was a disappointment. The movie is also a disappointment. Is that a first? I dunno, maybe.

The Dark Tower stands at the center of the universe, protecting a certain area from the darkness outside. Earth and the Milky Way are inside that protected bubble, but if the tower were to fall then all of that darkness would suddenly invade the universe. Monsters, demons, evil... they would conquer, unchecked. The Gunslingers are the only force that exists to protect the tower, but only one of them is left: Roland. A prophecy has said that a certain child's mind could destroy the tower, and that child has been found on Earth. Jake turns out to be the last hope, but he needs Roland's help to stop the Man in Black, a powerful sorcerer intent on destroying the tower and ruling whatever's left.

I don't even know where to start. There's no aspect of this movie that can redeem any of the rest. The acting, the writing, the cinematography, the scene staging, the CGI, the soundtrack and sound engineering... all of it's... bad.

Let's start with the adaptation. I have to admit that I've never read the books. Nonetheless, the series consists of eight books by the legendary author, Stephen King. Now, while the movie may adapt the books it also completes them, ending an entire story instead of building a world. What was a lengthy epic of eight books has been reduced to 95 minutes of mediocre drivel. How that happens with more than a million words of source material I have no idea... but this is the result.

None of these characters are motivating, charming, or interesting. Roland, the last Gunslinger, is a whiny warrior and Elba doesn't do anything beyond the script to make him compassionate. The Man in Black is boring and his magic is just as boring as the man. And Jake Chambers is equally tactless, feeling like nothing less than a way to vaguely view the story.

 

I really can't emphasize enough how bad the writing is. The fact that Akiva Goldsman still gets work is mind-boggling. He's had a hand in writing Transformers: The Last KnightKing Arthur: Legend of the SwordRingsThe 5th Wave, all 3 of the Paranormal Activity sequels, Jonah Hex... I could give a fuck whether or not he won an Oscar for helping to write A Beautiful Mind, he hasn't done a goddamn thing worthwhile except for that.

The dialogue is atrocious. Every kid talks like an adult. Every adult talks like an idiot. That's probably equally the actors and the writers at fault, but the writers wrote everything and the story is just as bad. There isn't enough background to make any of the characters sympathetic except for an obvious, tear-jerk death to try and make Jake a hero. Roland is a selfish bastard who, luckily, happens to hate the bad guy. The Man in Black is a selfish bastard who barely shows us he can even use magic.

The humor is hit or miss and when it doesn't hit it misses by a mile. So really the humor mostly just misses by miles... There's only one scene, in a hospital, where the humor actually makes sense... Beyond that you'll just be laughing at how bad the movie is.

Now, let me just explain a couple things. Roland, unlike the book version, doesn't care about the tower itself, all he cares about is killing the Man in Black and getting vengeance for the death of his father; he's also very old but moves like a young man. On the one hand he's a great fighter, but he doesn't make me root for him because he has no charisma. The Man in Black is, supposedly, a powerful magician who's been trying to destroy the tower for decades; there literally isn't a single moment throughout the film where he proves to be capable of more than Ron Weasley from the first part of the Harry Potter series except for the fact that he's fast enough to catch bullets. The writing and background characters inform us that the Man in Black is extraordinarily powerful, but he never does any evil planning or subterfuge, instead of waiting at a surefire reprieve where the heroes will go he "left a surprise..." In fact, everything the Man in Black does is as generic as a villain can possibly be. Jake just feels like he's along for the ride, even though he's supposed to be the most powerful character in the story he's just a disposable tool for the bad writing: he's inspiring when he needs to be inspiring, he's vulnerable when he needs to be vulnerable, and he fights back when he needs to fight back... and that's not through some strength of character, Jake is literally just a malleable piece of plot filler.

Similarly, the photography is also bad. Here and there it feels good and almost hits it's stride, then it just wastes any semblance of interest. As a result the movie never feels or looks nice. The CGI is so bad that the monster designs horrify the audience more than they horrify the characters. Their designs are so bad and forgettable that I feel like watching Alien just to see something scary; they're so uniformly expected that the moment when Roland gets injured by a monster from the darkness makes him seem like the biggest loser in the movie. There comes a moment early in the film, where a "house demon" attacks Jake and brings to life all the floorboards and the walls and, for all intents and purposes, the rest of the wood in the house... that moment is probably where most people will realize how fake and unrealistic the action feels, pulling everyone out of the movie.

The sound might actually be worse than the visuals. The soundtrack is wholly generic, never even trying to sound original or different and falling into the lazy cadences of every cinematic expectation ever made. Suspenseful moment coming up? You got it. Action building up? Already there. Dramatic tension bringing two characters together? Didn't the music already tell you that was happening? But it's more than just the soundtrack. The vocal tracks are audibly louder than the rest of the movie, feeling like voiceovers most of the time. Similarly, the sound engineering is also bad. Every clink of a canteen, turn of a knob, or pull of a trigger is unrealistically loud.

For a movie set in worlds that are supposed to be so full of magic and personality there's almost none to be had here. We never get to see what makes Mid-world so precious or Earth worth protecting. All of the world-building is skipped over time and time again by a story that moves from action to drama as quickly as possible. There are hints of an interesting world and interesting characters but the story doesn't care so why should we? They're all used as a means to build the relationship between Roland and Jake as they come together to fight evil, but even the story of their friendship is a sad shadow to the generic good versus evil plot.

Throughout the movie I felt my interesting fading exponentially. The dialogue, the concepts, even the staging of scenes feels thoughtless. In fact, let me kill the climax for you: during the final fight Roland can never get the upper hand because the Man in Black keeps catching the bullets and blocking attacks. Roland gets injured and drops one of his guns, being forced behind cover with only a single revolver. In a moment of inspiration we see Roland look at an I-beam and aim his gun, intending to ricochet a shot at his enemy. He fires once and we see the ricochet, then we see him fire a second shot which also ricochets. The Man in Black lifts his hand to catch the bullets but then

the second bullet catches up to the first and knocks it slightly off course and out of the kinda-villain's grasp, hitting him in the shoulder.

If that isn't enough of a reason to not like the movie let me simplify things: there isn't a single aspect of this movie that's worth watching. The writing, characters, acting, world-building, photography, CGI, sound design, music, action, staging and choreography... all of it's wasteful and boring. The hero doesn't feel heroic; the villain doesn't feel strong; the main character sounds like an idiot. It's been a very long time since I've seen a movie where aspects came together in such a disorderly way.

TL;DR: There is nothing about this movie that I can recommend. I can't even be sure whether or not fans of the original series will be more disappointed of the movie than the rest of us. I really tried to like this movie; I tried a lot... but for a story that takes places in a world awash with magic, the movie has zero magic.

  • Acting – 5 / 20
  • Story – 3 / 20
  • Cinematography – 5 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 2 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 5 / 10
  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Western – 4 / 10
  • Other – 0 / 10
 

Grade F = 24 / 100