It has taken Hollywood years to bring Stephen King’s The Dark Tower stories to the silver screen — and there’s a reason for that. The material consists of a collective of connected worlds arcing across a series of books, comics, and even a children’s book. J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both attempted to pull their vision of a glistening sword from the dense stone of source material. They eventually bowed out of the project — though Howard stayed on as a producer — and it became time for Nikolaj Arcel to try his hand.
But the problem still remained: how does one craft a feature-length film out of a story that can, one, satisfy longtime readers of King’s work and, two, act as an introduction for the rest of the masses? It’s a question that loomed over the project even as reports surfaced of a troubled production and last-minute edits. Now, as fans eagerly approach opening weekend, critics publishing their reviews in the late hours of Wednesday night have largely lambasted The Dark Tower, which acts as a truncated, 95-minute-long sequel to what was established on the page.
The main exception? Idris Elba. EW’s Darren Franich writes how the Luther and Thor: Ragnarok actor gives his character, Roland “The Gunslinger” Deschain, “some Man With No Name gruffness and genuine unwinking humor,” while making “dull” dialogue “sound stylish” — even as “the movie around him is sadly pointless, weirdly forgettable despite a slipstream story mashing fantasy and science-fiction and Brooklyn.”
The Dark Tower tells of The Gunslinger’s encounter with a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a city kid plagued by apocalyptic visions who’s flung into the fantastical Mid-World. Together, they’re faced with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a mysterious sorcerer trying to destroy a massive tower that protects Jake’s earth and that of parallel dimensions.
Some critics, including Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman, took a more positive outlook on the film, but most called it “generic,” “shockingly bad,” “a complete disaster,” and “so astoundingly awful.” The Dark Tower opens in theaters on Aug. 4. Perhaps the proposed television series will have better luck.
See more reviews below.
Darren Franich (Entertainment Weekly)
“Bad dialogue, lame plot, fine. The bigger issue: How could a film with Elba and McConaughey have so little swagger? ‘The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed,’ goes the perfect first line of King’s first story. There’s your cinema: Darkness, wasteland, gunslinger. You could watch that tableau for hours: It’s a Sergio Leone movie in 12 words. Director Nicolaj Arcel tips his hat towards the original cinematic inspiration — a movie theater in the background promises ‘Spaghetti Week at the Majestic!’ But The Dark Tower doesn’t want to be a western, barely spends any time in the desert, barely spends time anywhere, really. The plot is needlessly busy, cut to death at 90 minutes; whenever the pace lags, Arcel cuts back to the Man in Black’s control room, where people tell him things like (paraphrasing) ‘We’re trying to find the psychic’ and ‘We’re still trying to find the psychic.'”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“I decided to devote myself to what’s up on screen instead of what isn’t there. Here’s what I saw. The Dark Tower has been plagued by tales of last-minute re-editing and multiple cooks in the kitchen, but the movie that’s come out of all this is no shambles. It aims low and hits (sort of). It’s a competent and watchable paranoid metaphysical video game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, includes some luridly entertaining visual effects, and — it has to be said — summons an emotional impact of close to zero. Which in a film like this one isn’t necessarily a disadvantage.”
Dan Callahan (The Wrap)
“Worst of all here are the scenes where The Gunslinger teaches Jake how to shoot guns and his fetishizing of guns in general. The Gunslinger keeps telling Jake that he must kill with his heart and not his gun, but that dubious distinction gets totally lost in what is finally an incomprehensible pile of junk that has no claim to the epic reach that King might have been going for. Most of the scenes in The Dark Tower feel like a desperate compromise of some kind, and often there seem to be scenes missing that would simply get us from one point to another. With fantasy material like this, we need to be made to believe in the inventions and the conceits, and we cannot do that if they are shot and staged in such a truncated and perfunctory way.”
Kate Erbland (IndieWire)
“Fans of King’s books will likely be disappointed by the way this long-awaited film adaptation speeds through essential plot points and frantically introduces characters with little in the way of rhythm or care, all in service of a rushed finale that will leave plenty scratching their heads. A tight story is one thing, but a 95-minute feature that is unable to give even the slightest inkling that it’s based on a grand-scale epic masterpiece is something else entirely. The whole universe is at stake here, but ‘The Dark Tower’ wastes precious time before it delivers any big moments, which then only arrive care of listless and muddled action sequences.”
John DeFore (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Heaven knows, the books offer more invention than could fit in one feature film — reading just the first two paragraphs of Wikipedia’s entry on Jake Chambers excited me more than anything Dark Tower contains — but in their effort to introduce newcomers to this world, the filmmakers make the saga’s contents look not archetypal but generic and cobbled together. [The Man in Black’s] giant weapon looks like the Starkiller from The Force Awakens, spitting a giant beam of fire out toward a de-Sauroned version of the scary edifice in Tolkien’s Mordor; Jake, who has great psychic gifts, looks like the same ‘One Who Was Prophesied’ we’ve met in every wish-fulfillment fantasy targeted at youngsters since Luke Skywalker learned to see things with his eyes closed.”
Mike Ryan (UPROXX)
“The Dark Tower is so astoundingly awful that when you leave the theater you’ll likely be less mad you wasted your time than flabbergasted that something like this could a) happen and b) be released as something that, theoretically, is going to launch a multi-platform franchise. The Dark Tower has been in production for around ten years in some form or another. This final product reminds me a lot of the GOP healthcare plan: You’ve had all this time and THIS is what you come up with? I can already picture John McCain strolling into a theater this weekend, giving a dramatic thumbs down, killing The Dark Tower forever.”
Angie Han (Mashable)
“The Dark Tower isn’t really a movie for people who’ve never read Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. It hardly bothers to serve up any exposition, so newbies are thrown right into the deep end of its convoluted mythology. But it’s probably not for people who have read the books, either. The movie version is disappointingly lacking in the magic of King’s novels. (The metaphorical, literary kind of magic, I mean – there’s still plenty of magic in the plot, which the characters talk about constantly.)”
Matt Singer (ScreenCrush)
“The men and women who created The Dark Tower made a lot of mistakes, including a few catastrophic ones, but they did one thing exactly right: They chose Idris Elba as their lead. This film will only reinforce what people who’ve followed Elba through The Wire and Luther and a lot of movies (like this one) that were unworthy of his gifts already know: He is one of the most compelling screen presences of his generation. Even when the movie around him is total garbage nonsense, it is fun to watch Idris Elba; the way he walks, the way he stares at people with eyes blazing with intensity. He is an ideal action hero.”
Brian Truitt (USA Today)
“At least this can be said about The Dark Tower: It dares to be different. While most high-profile franchise starters try to do too much their first time out, this thing’s guilty of too little ambition. After years of being in development hell, the adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling eight-book Western fantasy series has been distilled to a mediocre action film with uninspired battles and iffy special effects. What could have been the next Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings is instead more akin to a 1990s Steven Seagal movie (and not one of the good ones).”