It’s a movie 10-years in the making (at least this attempt took 10 year), but when it arrived in cinemas The Dark Tower was met with negative reviews and muted box office. It currently has a pretty abysmal 16% on RottenTomatoes and just 5.9/10 from viewers on IMDB. So is it really that bad? No, it’s not, but its easy to understand why it’s had such bad reactions.
The film focuses on teenager Jake (Tom Taylor), who’s been having strange visions of a giant tower at the centre of the universe and the ‘Man In Black’ (Matthew McConaughey), who’s determined to destroy it. While those around him are beginning to think Jake is becoming unhinged, the teen discovers what he’s been seeing is real.
Jake slips through a portal into another world, where he encounters the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who’s he’s also seen in his visions. Roland is on a mission to destroy the Man In Black. Jake’s psychic powers could help him do that, but they could also be what finally destroys the Dark Tower.
Taken on its own, The Dark Tower isn’t a bad film. There’s an oddly 80s family adventure film vibe to it, with a misfit teen drawn into a fantastical battle between good and evil. However, that’s not the film most people thought they were getting.
Fans of Stephen King’s novels will undoubtedly find the movie a massive over-simplification of the intricate book series, and purists may also dislike that it’s moved events around (although the eagle-eyed may spot that technically this is a sequel to King’s books, allowing them to do things slightly differently). They’re also very violent books, but this is a 12/PG-13 rated movie.
Even those who don’t know King’s books will likely feel misled by the marketing, which suggested this would be a more grown-up movie than it actually is. They’re also likely to be a bit confused, as while you can work out what’s going on, the film constantly throws in things in the hope of keeping King fans happy, which will just perplex everyone else.
As it stands, the audience that would probably appreciate the movie most – older kids and younger teens – are probably the least likely to want to watch it. And all that’s why it got such a rough viewer and critical reaction. You can understand why they wanted to open up the story to a potentially wider audience with a PG-13 movie that could act as a franchise opener. However, the way they’ve done it has left it a movie that alienates its natural audience while lacking appeal to a broader one. Even the ‘Easter egg’ links to other King tales, from The Shining to The Shawshank Redemption (The Dark Tower is one of the main works that links together King’s interconnected universe), feel more tokenistic than fun.
It’s a shame, as on its own merits it’s entertaining enough. Admittedly, the whole thing is ridiculously rushed at 95 minutes – especially for what is such a complex story and a multiverse that needs a fair amount of explaining – but it just about works, as long as you ignore the books and what the marketing suggested it was gonna be.
This was supposed to be the beginning of a franchise that would span across both film and TV. Although there’s still talk of a television series, they’ve already suggested that if it does happen it’ll pretty much be a reboot. However, despite some enormous ambitions for what The Dark Tower could grow into, this movie isn’t how it ought to have started.
Overall Verdict: Making a Dark Tower adaptation that has more in common with The Maze Runner than It was always going to be a tough sell, and while on its own merits it’s okay, it’s unlikely to be what most viewers hoped it would be.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac