The Dark Tower is the first long-awaited film to adapt the book series of the same name written by Stephen King. For those that don’t know, King is a master of the horror-thriller genre; countless classics owe their success to his source material. However, it is my understanding that The Dark Tower, while still being undoubtedly written by his hand, has a very different feel to it than the vast majority of his works. But don’t just take my word for it, the series is one of many of his books that I have not gotten around to reading just yet.
For almost two decades now, in the wake of the success of The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films, avid King fans have demanded that a film adaptation of be made of this beloved series to showcase King’s sci-fi and world-building chops. Now think just for a moment: if a potential self-sustaining series that already possesses its own die-hard fanbase is up for grabs, are money-hungry studios really going to just let it sit there and pick it up when they feel interested? Of course not! This is a movie that has been trying to get itself made since 2007. Since then, the film has been acquired and subsequently shelved by four major studios (Universal, Paramount, Lionsgate, and Columbia aka Sony), has passed through the palms of three different writer/directors (J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, and finally Nikolaj Arcel), and been drawn up by countless different storyboards and scripts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when you start to see this type of studio buffoonery, you cannot expect anything good out of the final product.
But, you know what? I want to show some restraint and cut the studios a little bit of slack this time. Most of this films artistry comes from director Nikolaj Arcel, writer Akiva Goldsman, and co-writer Jeff Pinkner. Let’s take a quick look at each of these fellas, shall we? Arcel is the famous Danish writer/director known primarily for the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Okay, that’s definitely not a bad start. It is worth noting, however, that this is his first major U.S. production. In fact, this was his first film made entirely in the English language. But, he’s a director, and film is supposed to be a universal language, so that shouldn’t matter… right?
Akiva Goldsman is an aging writer from NYC… and that’s about the only decent thing I have to say about his history. Goldsman has made a name for himself by working on projects such as Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin (1997), Lost in Space (1998), Angels and Demons (2009), Insurgent (2015), The 5th Wave (2016), and – here comes the kicker – Transformers: The Last Knight (2017). Okay, so I know that’s a lot, and it might not mean anything to you, so to really nail down my point I’ll just tell you that the average Rotten Tomatoes score of every film he’s gotten writing credits for is a whopping 38%.
There’s not much to say about Jeff Pinkner. He launched his career by being a part of the writing teams for various TV sci-fi series such as Lost and Fringe. Since then, he has become one of Sony’s go-to cyborg writers. See, Sony has a team of writers who are cybernetically modified to “reach their full writing potential.” At least, that’s what their PR team would have you believe… The truth is that these modifications allow Sony executives to take control of these writers at any point during the writing process without the writers even realizing it. Pinkner has been on writing teams responsible for films like The Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014), and The 5th Wave (2016).
Many of you probably know me well enough to have a pretty good idea of where this review is going from here. So, let’s not waste any more precious time.
Simply put, this is absolutely the worst attempt at world-building I have ever seen in film. Would you like to take a guess at how much more I know about this movie’s universe after seeing the film when my only previous exposure was the film’s trailer? I’ll give you a hint, its number value is probably less than the score I gave to this section. When I say that not a single question I had was answered, I literally mean not a single question that begins with the words “who,” “what,” or “why”. Who is the Man in Black? What is his goal? Why is he trying to destroy the universe? Who are his minions? What do they see in him? Why do they want to see him succeed? What exactly is the Tower? Why is it at the center of the universe? Why is it on Mid-World? What is Mid-World? Is Mid-World another planet? Do the portals take people across dimensions or across space? Is there a portal that can take me out of this theater? Why did I pay money to see this? Would I really have liked this more than The Emoji Movie?
On top of being less helpful than Comcast’s customer service, the movie is extremely regressive when it comes to clichés. The last time I remember seeing a sky-beam was in Suicide Squad, which was nearly a year ago now. Things were looking bright for myself and my fellow sky-beam haters. “But hang on a second there, Bryce. Look at our new movie. See? Our sky-beam curves instead of going straight up in the sky. How’s that for original?”
The sad thing is, if you sift through the ashes of this garbage fire, you can find the tiny remains of what might have been a decent Stephen King story. There are traces of emotional arcs that are begging to have some kind of meaning injected into them and deeper themes whose surfaces aren’t even scratched.
While I can’t give this section the lowest score, this was by far the most disappointing aspect of the film. Not knowing what to expect anywhere else, I was sure that at the very least I would see great performances from two of my favorite contemporary actors, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. And little did I know that a lesser known actor that I really enjoy watching, Jackie Earle Hayley, would also be appearing in a flat and disappointing role. I mean, the sheer amount of talent in this cast is absurd. It’s more than just a shame that the writers couldn’t produce something that would make this film enjoyable. On the bright side, you can rest easy knowing that the poor performances from these three actors were due to a script devoid of character and meaning.
That being said, there are members of this cast that actually are bad. Tom Taylor is sub-par at best as the film’s lead role. Being that he’s relatively young, I want to pin this on Sony for trying to turn The Dark Tower into a shitty young-adult franchise; of course he’s going to try and channel energy from other YA films if that’s what you want him to do! The worst scenes in the film feature him alongside his best friend, played by Michael Barbieri. It’s like they took Hillary Clinton and Sara Palin, two people who have no chemistry and have no idea how to relate to younger generations, put them in boy suits, and told them to act like best friends.
This review is starting to get a little exhausting, so I’m going to try and speed through this section. There were multiple opportunities for Arcel to take the reins and really showoff his talent to an American audience, but the direction is limited to conventional techniques throughout the entire film. There were also opportunities for Sony to give free reign to their animators and special effects crews, but they settled for quick and easy. This is especially disappointing during the two larger action sequences that occur in the film, which come off as lazy and uninspired. It would have been exponentially better for them to copy things from films like The Matrix or John Wick (which is what I think they wanted to do at certain points) than to do… whatever it is they attempted.
No music section for this review, the score is already going to be low enough.
X-Factor: 4.5/10, Physics, and I did the math [Potential Spoilers but you shouldn’t care because I hope you’re not actually going to see this movie]
Roland (Idris Elba) does not know how to use magic. He steals his bullets at a gun store in the middle of NYC (which, is that even possible? I don’t think it is, but I don’t live there so correct me if I’m wrong). There is no way in hell that he can shoot a bullet in a straight line, aim, shoot another bullet, have that second bullet ricochet off of something, and then hit the first bullet to change its direction at the last millisecond. But you know what? Let’s give the writers the benefit of the doubt here and say that Roland’s guns are capable of firing any type of .45 caliber ammunition. The lowest velocity ammunition I could find online is the Federal Ammunition 45 ACP FMJ SWC round, which has an approximate muzzle velocity of 770 feet per second. The highest velocity round I could find is the 45 ACP +P (that +P part is important because only certain guns are capable of firing this type of ammunition, but remember I’m being very generous here) manufactured by MagSafe Ammunition with a muzzle velocity of 2260 feet per second. With this in mind, let’s say the store Roland robbed happened to have both of these rounds in stock, and that Roland happened to load them into his revolver in the order necessary for the MagSafe round to fire immediately after the Federal round. Now, let’s also say that the building we’re fighting in was momentarily turned into a vacuum by some dark magic BS, so that the bullets will maintain a constant velocity (note that this favors the faster round because of its hollowpoint shape). Also, because Roland is arguably super-human in his ability to use firearms, we’ll say that he is faster than the world-record shooting speed of 2 targets in 0.132 seconds, even though much more time passes between shots in the film; does 0.1 seconds on the dot sound good? So, if the Federal round has a 0.1 second head start, and the MagSafe round was fired directly behind it following the exact same flight path, the MagSafe round would hit the Federal round after it has traveled approximately 117 feet, which is probably more than twice the distance between Roland and his target in this particular scene. And that’s not even including the ricochet shot, which would only add distance because the MagSafe round wouldn’t travel in a straight line, and it would lose most of its velocity upon contact with the object.
If you’re not satisfied with my math then you can go screw yourself, because the point is the scene is ridiculous and you shouldn’t be watching it.
It’d be an understatement to say that this franchise’s future is in shambles. The chances of Sony being able to pick up the broken pieces of this catastrophe and making a sequel out of it are slim to none. Because of this, there is no reason for you to watch this movie unless you’re a Dark Tower fan that wants to laugh at how awful this movie is. I imagine this is pretty close to how The Last Airbender fans felt when they saw the live-action adaptation a few years back. In this moment, I’d like readers to take a step back and look at what Sony has done in the span of one week. At the end of July, they released The Emoji Movie, which currently sits at a 7% on RT (it’s worth noting that the movie had a big fat goose-egg for most of its opening weekend, but of course someone had to ruin that). This week, they released The Dark Tower which currently has an 18%. Note that these two projects are not co-productions, unlike their hit Spider-Man: Homecoming earlier in July, which was co-produced by Marvel. This is a mega-studio showing us its true colors. The bats are hungry tonight, Sony, I’m onto you.