PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


A Towering Disappointment: 'The Dark Tower' Is Brutally Boring

Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers (IMDB)

Middling, misguided, and ill-conceived, The Dark Tower captures none of the scope and style of King's popular books.

The Dark Tower

Director: Nicolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Tom Taylor, Matthew McConaughey
Year: 2017
US Date: 2017-08-04
UK Date: 2017-08-18

Cursory, dull, and as forgettable as any movie you’ll see this year, The Dark Tower’s best virtue is its brisk 90-minute runtime. Its second-best is Idris Elba, who plays the desert-wandering, sharpshooting, stone-faced Roland, a Gunslinger from Mid-World. Few working actors are as magnetic and commanding a screen presence as the gravelly-voiced Brit, but even he can’t buoy this wannabe epic, which encompasses two worlds’ worth of mythology but feels impossibly small-scale, to the point where the climactic battle feels as dinky and cheap as of one of those superhero movies from the '90s (you know, when superhero movies were a joke), except less inspired.

Unlike the Stephen King books the movie is loosely based on, Gunslinger Roland doesn’t serve as our protagonist; instead, our proxy is Jake (Tom Taylor), a 14-year-old from our world whose life is consumed by ominous visions of a Gunslinger, a man in black, and a Dark Tower from another world. The man in black in Jake’s visions is a Mid-World sorcerer called Walter (Matthew McConaughey, dressed like a SoCal sleazeball), who kidnaps Earth kids who have psychic gifts (“Shine”) and uses them to power a laser thingy that he shoots at the dark tower, which would lead to the universe falling apart... or something.

Before Jake meets the quasi-cowboy, his visions guide him to the realization that there are otherworldly beings inhabiting his native New York City, distinguishable by a seam in the neck that indicates they’re wearing a human mask made of loose skin, which occasionally droops like thin-sliced deli meat (disgusting). These demon-like grunts are working for Walter, of course, and come after Jake in his home (under the guise of special needs school representatives), forcing him to run from home to an abandoned building in Brooklyn he saw in his visions. There, a demon-spirit-guardian-thing (the movie’s world-building is delivered almost exclusively via flat expository dialogue, making most details near impossible to retain) possesses the house’s creaky floorboards and tries to swallow Jake whole. Jake narrowly escapes a splintery death in the first of the movie’s two pretty-cool moments (I’ll touch on the second shortly) and finds a portal to Mid-World, which brings him to the lonely Gunslinger.

Writer-director Nikolaj Arcel and co-writers Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, and Anders Thomas Jensen take an approach to King’s epic that saps it of all scope and atmosphere. The film desperately wants to be cool when it should be more concerned with capturing the spirit of the source material. While King peppered his story with a hodgepodge of cultural references (from King Arthur to Robert Browning to Harry Potter to Sergio Leone), the film pulls from the most tired modern action movie clichés, focusing on poorly-executed gun-fu and generic urban-goth and western imagery in an attempt to appeal to general audiences.

Elba does shine through on a handful occasions, imbuing the otherwise sullen, humorless film with a bit of personality. When a wounded Roland travels with Jake to Earth, he has a funny little interaction with the hospital staff that hits obvious fish-out-of-water jokes rapid-fire and is actually genuinely entertaining. The scene only lasts about a minute, so it helps the movie about as much as a glass of water helps put out a wildfire, but Elba makes every second count. He tries valiantly to add wrinkles to the material with his physicality and delivery (his accent is hard to place, which is actually a good thing), but Roland’s obsession with killing Walter is about as basic a revenge story as they come, and his role as Jake’s chaperone is even less compelling. McConaughey appears less motivated to elevate the film and leans on his typical smooth-talking routine.

Matthew McConaughey as Baddy Randall Flagg

About that second, pretty-cool moment: It happens in the middle of an action scene that sees a Mid-World village being burned to the ground by Walter’s grunts. One of the baddies has snatched Jake but Roland is too injured to pursue. He lowers his head slowly and lifts his good arm, pointing it in the general direction of Jake’s fleeing captor. The sound drowns out as he focuses his hearing, standing still in a zen-like trance. He fires, and the bullet tears through the environment before finding its target. The sequence is terrific and provides a glimpse of what the movie should have felt like all the way through.

It’s been made public that The Dark Tower is essentially a television pilot for a series starring Elba and Taylor but released in theaters to gauge mainstream interest, and it would come as a shock to me if the show actually made it to air. If one were to watch this movie without any prior knowledge of King’s series, one would likely assume the books were bargain-bin young adult novels in line with The Hunger Games and Divergent. That’s how middling, misguided, and brutally boring this adaptation is.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.