Review: The Dark Tower

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: When his apocalyptic visions of a mysterious “Man in Black” (Matthew McConaughey) come true, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) must turn to the enigmatic Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) – the last of the “Gunfighters”- for help.

REVIEW: Fans of Stephen King’s epic “The Dark Tower” series, and they are legion, are in for a bad time at the movies. Eagerly anticipated to the point that dozens of hardcore King fans were turned away at the promo screening I attended in Montreal, THE DARK TOWER is a muddled mess of an adaptation that plays like someone wrote a young adult novelization of a couple of the books, and that was turned into a movie.

Virtually nothing about this makes any sense, and I’m speaking as someone who’s only read the first book of the series – which I think would make me more inclined to like it than most as I don’t really have anything to compare it to. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who co-wrote the script with the controversial (I’m being nice) Akiva Goldsman, tries to pack so much into the film, that at a mere ninety minutes, it feels like one of those YouTube fan edits of an entire series.

With a cheap look and bargain basement action scenes (with too dark lighting covering up dodgy CGI), no one seems to have had much faith in this as a franchise starter. This is despite some nods to King’s work sprinkled-in here and there, with a photo of the Overlook Hotel in a doctor’s office, a cuddly CUJO-esque St. Bernard in the street, and a red caddy toy that looks an awful lot like CHRISTINE, and seems to suggest a kind of shared King-universe (actually not a horrible idea). Word will be so toxic that THE DARK TOWER will be lucky to recoup its costs – ending the franchise before it even really begins.

That’s a shame, because while the execution is horrible, there are elements that work. The casting of the leads is pretty perfect. Idris Elba could have been iconic in the part had more care been taken, and he gives it his all. Tall and strapping, he looks like a classic movie hero, and has oodles of big star charisma. He’s a formidable guy, yet he also allows some vulnerability to come through once he’s paired with Tom Taylor as Jake. They actually seem to have affection for each other, which is a miracle considering how rushed their arcs are.

As The Man in Black, Matthew McConaughey has fun chewing the scenery, and has the right sense of malice and seductiveness, even though the character is badly handled by the filmmakers. He’s too easily dealt with, and why, being an omnipotent sorcerer, does he have a team of IT guys (led by Fran Kranz) working for him?

Outside of the leads, one of the things that works is a brief sequence depicting Roland as a fish-out-of-water in modern NYC, with Elba having a knack for stoic, deadpan humor. The score by Junkie XL is also quite serviceable, and works overtime to give the movie some sense of weight.

It’s really a shame that, after so many failed attempts, the version of THE DARK TOWER that finally hits the big screen is this watered-down mess. It’s as if they intentionally torpedoed the franchise, but, here and there, you get brief flashes of what could have been. As far as missed-opportunities go, this is a tragedy.

The Dark Tower



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.