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There isn’t a man or woman who doesn’t know of Stephen King these days. And why should that not be the case? While King himself would say otherwise, there is no denying that the man has become one of the greatest and most influential authors of modern times. He has written countless books, namely in the horror genre, and his work has been adapted into countless films and mini-series. There was a time when I would read nothing but Stephen King books and I have seen many of the adaptations of his work – from the amazing The Shining and The Shawshank Redemption to the far from amazing Sleepwalkers and The Graveyard Shift. These days however, I find it hard to get into his work due to the repeat of his stories, which makes sense when you consider how much he’s written.
And one book, or book series, that has fallen victim to my King illiteracy is what many consider his magnum-opus; The Dark Tower.
Years later we now have a film to go with the novels. Although from what I hear, this film is about as accurate to the book as the Percy Jackson films were to the Rick Riordan novels. The story we are presented is that of young Jake, a young kid with strange abilities – you know, maybe it was apt that I mentioned Percy Jackson earlier. This kid has psychic powers, the Shining to be exact, in a pretty cool link to King’s universe. With the Shining, Jake has dreams of a man in a black suit destroying a titanic black tower – and that only a gunslinger with expert marksman skills can stop him. Jake soon finds his way to a different world and must help the gunslinger, and himself, take revenge on the devil in the black suit. For if the tower falls all hell, literally, breaks loose.
When this film started most of my optimism died-out. Why? Because, for the beginning at least, this film follows that formula of late 2000’s-early 2010’s young-adult fantasy adaptations. It felt just like Percy Jackson; like the awful City of Bones; like the more recent (but pretty good) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. With that, I had a feeling that I knew what I was in for – and boy was I dreading it. With the exception of Miss Peregrine’s, this formula has never worked, and I have no idea why it’s still being used. The acting wasn’t helping either. We hadn’t seen Roland the gunslinger or Walter (yes, Walter) the man in black yet, and everyone before them was pretty awful. The actor for Jake was wooden, and his voice was clearly breaking during the filming. Coupled with messy writing and basic directing, I was taken out of this film very early on. Then we got to the other world.
In this other world, we finally meet Roland and Walter, played by the film’s celebrities Idris Elba and Mathew McConaughey. It here that the film finally starts to feel alive. Almost immediately the directing picks up, becoming more visually interesting and even a little creative. There’s a moment in the ruins of a theme park that feels like classic Stephen King. The acting improves drastically too. Elba stands out here – not only does he look the part, and looks very cool too, he plays it with the right amount of seriousness and satire to the Clint Eastwood westerns. He almost single-handedly carries the film with charisma and gravitas.
Sadly, less positive can be said about McConaughey. Not that he was bad, although he was far from top-form. But he plays the role in a way that anybody else could have. He’s that classic silly villain – while his dialogue and character is pretty well written, he himself is constantly whispering his lines, hiding in the shadows and always has a henchman to take his coat. He is clearly having fun, but is also trying to take things seriously. I don’t know if it’s creative choices, what the director was telling him or if he was just miscast, but something was letting him down here.
For the most part, the film plays like a young-adult adaptation – albeit darker than most. Despite an obvious benefit of a higher rating, we have a 12a film. Censored brutality and mild creeps throughout. There’s a good bit of CGI here, and not all of it is very convincing. The characters are surprisingly fun and engaging, particularly as the film goes on, but are fairly underdeveloped. Some scenes caught me by surprise, but for the most part it follows a very familiar formula.
Where the film really shines is in its action. They actually get away with a few things 12a’s don’t usually do in moments – nothing majorly violent or gory, but a little harder than you’d think. The gunslinger scenes we a constant blast, no pun intended. The man in black gets some pretty awesome and even intimidating moments here and there too. Awesome shoot outs and creative uses of magic help this film out of the hole the story’s in.
While The Dark Tower starts off very poor it ends on an enjoyably thrilling, dumb-fun note. I can almost promise that this is not how the books go, but it’s enjoyable none-the-less.
The Dark Tower might rightfully rub book fans the wrong way, and if I had to hazard a guess I’d say King wouldn’t be overly thrilled with the end result either.
But, if you’re like me and haven’t read the books you may find that there’s some fun to be had once you plough through the opening and switch your brain off. If you look at The Dark Tower on sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic then you’ll see that it’s getting panned. Personally, I wouldn’t be that harsh on it as I found it overall enjoyable, if messy. But at the same time, it’s not the first film I would defend. It’s much better than most of the King adaptations out there. My advice is see it for yourself if you haven’t read the books. If you have, then it’ll probably be best if you leave this one to crumble.