Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Dark Tower (2017) review


Warning - This review will contain spoilers for The Dark Tower book series.

    The Dark Tower is a movie which is difficult to summarize my feelings regarding. Well, no, I hate it. I really-really hate this movie. It's problematic because I don't hate this movie because it's bad. If this were a completely generic action movie with a sci-fi premise, I'd put it up with Resident Evil as a multiple re-watch. However, this is THE DARK TOWER. It is one of the most signature pieces of American fantasy which exist and up there with George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, Stephen King's other masterpiece The Stand, and The Wheel of Time for "iconic presentations of what US authors are capable of." How do I feel about this movie? Mrs. White?

This is how I feel.
     Thank you. I mean, this is a movie that isn't bad if you don't know the source material and I hate to be that guy. Idris Elba is one of the few people in the world who could actually pull of Roland Deschain due to the fact Clint Eastwood isn't available. Ironically, Matthew McConaughey is probably one of the others. Race change aside, Elba is a Hollywood actor capable of projecting the grim determination and unchangable force of personality which is the essence of the literary Roland.

Fun comic book action gunplay. There's that.
    I'm not sure McConaughey could turn off his good old boy charm enough to make Roland work, who is anything but charming, but he manages to do a delightfully comic book Man in Black. Even though this movie is forcing me to forget the face of my Father, I would love for him to play Randall Flagg in a two part movie adaptation of The Stand. I wouldn't mind a sequel to The Dark Tower but I have no idea how they'd salvage it. Maybe by somehow doing The Gunslinger as the second movie. Because this movie has almost nothing to do with the first volume.

    Indeed, I feel the need to point out both actors are incredibly good casting and even acting against incredibly bad direction and writing, they do fine jobs. If I need to liken this movie's two lead performances to anything, I'd say they're similar to Liam Neeson's performance in The Phantom Menace. They're all three comfortable in worlds of CGI and ridiculousness that serve as islands of believably. In effect, they feel like they were performances cut and pasted from better movies.

Lots of stunning visual imagery in the movie.
    I mean, McConaughey overacts like hell but that's part of the character. The Man in Black/Walter O'Dim/Randal Flagg/John Farson are the salesman and evangelical preacher of the person the Devil is terrified of. He's a little out of his element as he's heading up a vast technological conspiracy designed to harness stuff to do stuff but I can easily attribute this to Flagg if not O'Dim and they are the same person.

    As for Roland? There's a moment where Roland says, essentially, "The war against evil is over, the forces of good have lost, the Dark Tower is coming down whether we like it or not, and I don't care about any of that because all I want to do is avenge my father." Which says, somewhere, someone among the screenwriters (if not Elba himself) got what the books are about.

They should never be this close. That's part of the futility of Roland's quest.
    Roland is not a good person. The Gunslingers of Eld were hard men, more like the Stark ancestors than Ned himself, but they were honorable. Roland was the most ruthless, hard, and fanatical of them. It's both why he survived and why he's actually kind of a terrible choice to be a hero. He's a guy who unleashes a terrible monster on the world because he wants to shave a little time off his quest.

    Hell, the very fact his quest is arguably completely unnecessary is a major part of the story. The Dark Tower doesn't need saving as Roland and the others in his group are fictional characters existing within its purview. The Crimson King is on a quest to kill God and Roland is on a quest to turn back the past--both equally futile endeavors they've deluded themselves into believing in.

McConaughey does a fine job. You should like the Man in Black even as he's a monster.
    His quest for the Dark Tower is a dangerous obsession that is only tangentially related to saving the universe from the Crimson King. He is willing to let the innocent die and kill any number of people to achieve his goals. He would be a villain if not for the fact he is faced against opponents much worse than him and capable of faking softness. I say faking because he only protects his Ka-Tet and loved ones as long as they don't stand in the way of his quest for the Dark Tower. This is not that Roland.

    I said before I saw this movie that they only needed to get two things right: 1. Roland killing an entire village of Walter O'Dim's worshipers with a cold blooded diligence equivalent to the Punisher. 2. Leaving Jake to die because it was a choice between him and the Dark Tower. Unfortunately, this is not even a loose adaptation of The Gunslinger. It's the story of Walter O'Dim versus Roland with a character that is yet another incarnation of Jake. Which, for fans of the series, means that I am entirely able to consider this an event which could have happened to Roland across his travels but it's not THE event.

Some amazing Easter Eggs here.
    I think part of the reason I'm so disappointed is it's clear the movie makers included many people who saw Smaug but wanted a Balrog. The Dark Tower is the only series I know you could seriously adapt to get Game of Thrones levels of prestige with similar levels of character complexity but only if you want complexity. It's a story which wants to frame Roland as a reluctant messiah, more Aragorn than Boromir but missing that robs his character of any actual depth. The same is done for the Dark Tower itself. It is re-imagined as sort of a giant containment unit for demons as it holds the monsters at bay versus holding all of reality up.

    I keep forgetting to mention Jake in this review, which is a shame because Tom Taylor does a job well above his age. It's just, unfortunately, it belongs in a different movie. They give Jake the gifts of Danny Torrance from The Shining and make him Roland's Robin-esque sidekick. The guy who is there to inspire him to come out of his funk and become the hero he was meant to be. This actually isn't bad because that's Jake's role in The Gunslinger. It's just that Roland REJECTS this role and commits an act of unforgivable evil. Can you guess whether he does this in the movie?

I half-expect this to become an Underworld-esque franchise.
    The movie is fine. It's okay. It's just not The Dark Tower. It's not one of the books I used as the basis for my Cthulhu Armageddon series. It's weirdly, The Dark is Rising. An Arthurian quantum physics universe-jumping children's book about fighting demon worshipers with a child learning to become a man. I mean I could go and describe it's plot but it's mostly, "Shoot the bad things and save the children."

4/10

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