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The Dark Tower ••1/2

Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Date: August 4, 2017


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I was definitely in the mood for a movie about something dark protruding into the sky.

It seems our next film is the fight of good vs. evil over Trump Tower. Let’s recap:

We meet eleven-year-old Jake (Tom Taylor), who is having dreams and visions about a dark tower, a gunslinger (Idris Elba), and a man dressed in black (Matthew McConaughey). Everyone thinks Jake is crazy, and his mother (Katheryn Winnick) even takes him to a psychiatrist about these disturbing visions. One day two workers from a psychiatric facility come to Jake’s home to take him away, but he recognizes them as members of the evil forces in his fantasies.


Jake runs away and finds a portal to another world. He steps through and immediately meets up with the Gunslinger from his nightmares. The Gunslinger explains that the Man in Black is trying to destroy the Dark Tower – the thing that keeps the universal badness at bay. Now it’s a race against time as Jake and the Gunslinger track down the Man in Black to save both their worlds.

Greg, whatever The Dark Tower was trying to do, it misses the mark. It wasn’t a scary movie, a horror movie, an action movie, or a western. I suppose it belongs in the fantasy genre, but what kind of fantasy involves a dark, foreboding tower holding the universe together? Usually those are the kinds of towers we want to destroy, not keep standing, so I’m not sure what kind of metaphor or symbol this story is proposing.

The tale is a simple one involving our hero, a young boy, and his mission to preserve the tower. To accomplish this feat, he enlists the aid of a friend and mentor in the form of the gunslinger, and he must defeat the villainous Matthew McConaughey. So it’s a pretty standard hero’s journey, a coming-of-age type of story with most of the elements of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth in place. But nothing in the film is particularly inspiring. There’s not much action, not much suspense, not much interesting dialogue, and not much to get excited about. This film is a by-the-numbers fantasy that barely kept my attention for 95 minutes.

Yeah, I agree. In anticipation of the film, I read book one in The Dark Tower series. Only to learn that the movie is not based on any one of the books. But rather, is a sort of amalgam of all the books combined. As such it was not satisfying in any way. Also, the books are very dark and suitable mainly for adult consumption. This new film (and apparent series) was watered down and seems to be a young adult offering. It was not scary or dark and did not bring the adult level of entertainment of the books.

However, the performances were top-notch. Idris Elba as Roland, the Gunslinger, was at once brooding and sympathetic. He was a man out for vengeance. McConaughey’s Man in Black was equally brooding and quite scary as a man with a singular purpose – to bring down the tower by sucking the life energy out of small children.

Despite McConaughey’s brilliant portrayal, the Man in Black is a one-dimensional character. We don’t know why he wants to topple the Dark Tower. We don’t know how he came to be such a villainous character. As we’ve noted in the past, the pure evil villain, however well presented, is still bland and boring. A little more backstory for the Man in Black might have upped the game for this story.

I interpreted McConaughey’s “man in black” character to be the devil — or something equivalent in midworld — and as such it didn’t seem to matter how he became pure evil. But even the devil is a fallen angel with a backstory, and so you’re right, it would have been nice to know how he evolved into such utter badness. We learn a bit more about the gunslinger’s history but only at a surface level.

In terms of transformation, we do have a young boy with a secret identity whose powers are initially misunderstood by everyone. This case of mistaken identity is a deep heroic archetype in ancient storytelling, seen in tales from Cinderella to the Ugly Duckling. So there is a transformation from ordinary (and vilified) to extraordinary (and revered) in our young hero. And his highly evolved powers save the day at the end.

Yeah, actually I enjoyed Jake’s transformation in this film. He thinks he’s a nut case – going crazy. Only to find that he’s got some sort of special power. So he comes into his own as a hero.

The Dark Tower is a disappointing if not technically powerful achievement. The acting and special effects are as good as any movie we’ve seen this year. But the story is not as adult as I would have liked and it doesn’t relate to the book it’s based upon. I give The Dark Tower 3 out of 5 Reels.

Jake is the hero of the story and his transformation is entertaining. His mentor is the Gunslinger who has his own transformation to undergo. The Man in Black is a strong villain. What he lacks in backstory or motivation he makes up for in being a competent and challenging opponent. I give Jake and his hero’s journey 3 out of 5 Heroes. Jake’s transformation is good, he comes into his own in this story. I give him 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

I agree that The Dark Tower is a towering disappointment. This is a movie that didn’t know what it wanted to be. I suppose it was a fantasy adventure for pre-teens that doesn’t hold much appeal for adults. Overall there wasn’t enough fun, suspense, or adventure in this film to hold my interest. Pretty much everything about this movie and in this movie is forgettable. I can only give it 2 Reels out of 5.

Having said that, the film does feature a decent hero’s journey and a solid hero’s transformation. Jake is separated from his ordinary world and encounters all the basic elements of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero — a friend and mentor, a formidable villain, and a mission to eradicate evil. Jake discovers his true powers and true identity and in so doing he defeats the enemy. As such, I can award 3 Hero points and 3 transformation Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

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