'The Dark Tower' Review Round-Up: Can The Movie Really Be This Bad?

The time has come for fans of Stephen King's The Dark Tower book series to see how the big screen adaptation of the sci-fi western has turned out. If the first reviews are to be believed (following press screenings that happened just 24 hours before the film gets a wide release, which usually isn't a good sign), this movie is an absolute disaster.

Find out what critics are saying in The Dark Tower reviews that have arrived online.

Our own Ben Pearson offered up some quick thoughts on Twitter:

Our editor-in-chief Peter Sciretta was even more brief and cut straight to the chase:

Meanwhile, Tasha Robinson from The Verge says the book adaptation suffers from being simplified too much for general audiences:

The Dark Tower, helmed by Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, is so simplified in places that it seems outright generic.

The film, which emerged from a well-publicized, troubled process of studio-switching development, reshoots, and delays, feels like it's perpetually at war with itself. It's alternately aimed at newcomers to the series, who presumably need hand-holding through the story beats, and insiders who can fill in the narrative gaps for themselves, and feel the weight of significance on things given little gravity in the film. But the struggle to appeal to both halves of its presumed audience has left the film conflicted and erratic, a puzzling mix of highly specific details and frustratingly broad fantasy strokes.

Mike Ryan at Uproxx compared The Dark Tower to the Republican health care plan:

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.

Variety's Owen Gleiberman wasn't as hard on the movie, but maybe that's because he didn't read Stephen King's books:

I decided to devote myself to what's up on screen instead of what isn't there.

"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.

Julia Alexander at Polygon gives Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey credit for doing their best, but they can't save the movie:

Nikolaj Arcel's cinematic adaptation of The Dark Tower ignores the way King's story is meant to be processed, and the result is a disappointing, meandering mess that fails to capture any magic from the novels.

The Dark Tower's biggest problem is trying to fit a nonlinear story into a tightly packed, 90-minute movie. This isn't a simple rearrangement of scenes to make the book fit the screen; it's a complete reworking of what King imagined. Actors Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey play their respective roles to the best of their abilities, but the writing behind the characters isn't there. Their Gunslinger and Man in Black feel like two-dimensional caricatures instead of fleshed-out figures.

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Marty Sliva at IGN didn't outright hate it, but found little to like:

The Dark Tower is a thoroughly average take on some truly incredible source material. While the fantastic leads do the best with what they're given, it's ultimately not enough to compensate for a lack of time spent building characters and their motivations in the script. A good-looking shell of a great epic is all here, but peeling back the veneer reveals that there's not a whole lot going on underneath. For a story where the literal fate of the universe is at stake, it's disappointingly easy to not really care about anything that's happening on screen.

John DeFore at The Hollywood Reporter thinks more casual moviegoers might be pleased by the movie:

Though far from the muddled train wreck we've been led to expect, [The Dark Tower] lacks the world-constructing gravitas of either the Tolkien books that inspired King or the franchise-launching movies that Sony execs surely have in mind. Though satisfying enough to please many casual moviegoers drawn in by King's name and stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it will likely disappoint many serious fans and leave other newbies underwhelmed.

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.

Charles Bramesco at The Guardian rips into The Dark Tower with a Memento reference:

Anterograde amnesia, best known as the affliction Guy Pearce suffers from in Memento, is defined as a mental disorder that blocks the formation of new memories. Known causes include blunt-force trauma and The Dark Tower, a film that is not only forgettable but militantly memory-proof.

While sitting through this uniquely flavorless slog, a viewer jolts out of a waking sleep every five minutes or so to realize that they have not internalized a thing. Nikolaj Arcel's efforts to translate and condense Stephen King's long-running series of densely mythologized novels amount to being a western without the majesty of the west, a fantasy without anything even coming close to being fantastic.

The Dark Tower Trailer Breakdown 53

Dan Callahan at The Wrap wishes someone else was at the helm of the film and takes a special shot at Matthew McConaughey's performance:

The unfortunate thing is that the basic material of "The Dark Tower" as presented here is promising. If it had been directed by Spielberg or one of Spielberg's supposed heirs like JJ Abrams, perhaps it might have worked out. But Abrams, who was the first director attached to the film, left in 2009. His replacement, Ron Howard, abandoned ship in 2015. The job finally fell to Danish director Nikolaj Arcel ("A Royal Affair"). But Arcel has no control or touch at all here.

"The Dark Tower" is mainly noteworthy for McConaughey's enjoyably bad performance as a force of evil who can set things on fire with his hands, order people to stop breathing, and grab bullets as they fly through the air. As McConaughey swans through scene after ridiculous scene, it's almost as if he is deliberately aiming for a Razzie Award to go with his Oscar. Imagine RuPaul playing Clint Eastwood and you will get an idea of the mixed messages of his work here, which suggests both fatigue and a brand of steely camp that is entirely his own.

Matt Singer at ScreenCrush acknowledges that this movie is pretty bad, but he gives credit to Idris Elba for being a bright spot:

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. He looks like the coolest man who ever lived in his fantasy Western garb, and he moves with a rare combination of grace and force, like the best parts of Gene Kelly mixed with the best parts of Chow Yun-fat. He makes an amazing Gunslinger. Sadly, he's trapped in a not-very-good Gunslinger movie.

Scott Wampler at Birth.Movies.Death laments that the movie mostly just exists:

The biggest problem here isn't the remixing of the Dark Tower mythology or the casting or even the wonky special effects (though all of those elements are certainly there to share the blame). No, the biggest problem is how lifeless it all feels, how limp-wristed and lame the final product is. There's an odd flatness to the whole thing, and the film's central conflict – the Man In Black wanting to harness Jake's psychic abilities versus Roland's eventual interest in keeping The Boy safe – comes across like a gross oversimplification of the source material. Of course this thing needed to be palatable for general audiences, and of course making Jake the audience surrogate was the obvious way to introduce said audiences to the bizarre world Stephen King created...but surely it didn't have to feel this bland and static. So much of it just kind of sits there.

The Dark Tower Reviews

Matt Goldberg at Collider reaffirms the movie is a waste of time, despite Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey's best efforts:

Rather than plunge you into a strange environment, The Dark Tower wants to make no more than a whisper. Its opening title cards may tell you about the premise of the movie, but more appropriate cards would read along the lines of, "We're so sorry you bought a ticket to this. It's only 95 minutes. Please enjoy your popcorn and soda. Again, sorry."

It's a movie that rushes from plot beat to plot beat, terrified to spend a second more with its characters lest we start to feel something for them. In the case of Roland and Walter, the movie almost gets away with it because Elba and McConaughey are so good. Elba conveys Roland's nobility and tragedy while McConaughey is clearly having a ball playing the heavy. Unfortunately, Taylor isn't a strong enough actor to play the central character. It seems like he was cast because his eyes are as big as saucers, but his line readings are flat, and he doesn't seem to have much of a read on his character, who functions as audience surrogate, Chosen One, and a way for us to learn more about Roland.

Not even the excitable Peter Travers from The Rolling Stone liked The Dark Tower:

So much is so wrong about The Dark Tower, the stunted film version of Stephen King's marvelously dense and dazzling series of eight novels, that it's hard to know where to kick off a critical reckoning. The crux of the problem is that the bestselling author's magnum opus deserves an open-ended miniseries treatment, akin to what HBO has done with Game of Thrones or Peter Jackson's treatment of the magnificent cinematic trilogy Lord of the Rings.

Instead, we get a 95-minute movie that plays like a mash-up of King's mythic themes with no connective tissue. It's as if director Nikolaj Arcel and co-screenwriters Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker and Anders Thomas Jensen pulled an all-nighter skimming "The Gunslinger" novels and shoved whatever they could remember onto the big screen. Call it The Dark Tower for Dummies.


These reviews are even worse than I was expecting. If it wasn't for the presence of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, I hate to think how terrible this movie would have been. This is really more of a bummer for fans of Stephen King's books than general audiences who had no idea what they were going to get with an adaptation like this. Still, it's always upsetting when a potential franchise starter with such a fascinating world doesn't get a chance to take off, even though it sounds like the powers that be will try to continue with that TV show prequel they keep on talking about. We'll just have to see if that happens.