The Dark Tower TV show

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: the big screen adaptation of Stephen King‘s The Dark Tower.)

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and The Dark Tower movie followed. Bringing Stephen King’s fantasy-epic series to the big screen has been a highly-anticipated dream for many fans of the books. Long have they desired to see the realm of Mid-World realized on the silver screen; to see the adventures of Roland Deschain brought to life. And now that that day has finally come, the results are crushingly disappointing. Because The Dark Tower is one of the most frustrating types of films: it’s neither excellent nor atrocious – it just is. A middling, often lazy film that just sort of lays there like an old, threadbare carpet.

It’s time to travel once again around the wheel and figure out just why this film is such a misfire, and how badly it forgets not only the face of its father but also the very source material that brought it into existence.

Spoilers follow, of course.

The Dark Tower sequel

Other Worlds Than These

One of the biggest mistakes The Dark Tower film makes is telling its story through the perspective of Jake (Tom Taylor). It’s easy to guess why the filmmakers did this: they thought it would make everything easier to digest. It reeks of studio exec groupthink or lazy “How To” screenwriting manual logic – the mythology is too complex and strange, so we need to be introduced to it through a “normal” person. It’s the same approach to something like The NeverEnding Story or Last Action Hero.

There are multiple reasons why this just doesn’t work in The Dark Tower. First and foremost is the fact that Taylor’s performance is rather dreadful. Michael Barbieri, who gave an incredible performance in Ira SachsLittle Men, appears briefly in the film as a neighbor and friend of Jake, and Barbieri is so clearly the better performer between the two that it’ll have you wondering why he didn’t land the role of Jake instead. Taylor, for his part, is flat and unbelievable, and seems completely incapable of emoting in big emotional moments – witness the scene where he’s dangling off the side of the cliff and utters a cry of fear so void of any real emotion that it borders on laughable.

Another reason telling the story through Jake’s eyes fails to benefit the narrative is the fact that we never really learn much about Mid-World and the film’s mythology in the end. There are frequent exposition dumps, where characters just blatantly say what’s supposed to be going on, but none of it really connects. If you want to use Jake as our introduction to all of this complex stuff, you need to actually put this method to use. Otherwise, you’re wasting our time.

The most frustrating result of this framing device is the fact that Idris Elba, as Roland, is the only element of the film that comes close to really working. Elba, a wonderful actor who might need a new agent at this point, finally had the chance to land a break-out film role here, but the narrative keeps him at bay. Roland should be a bit of an enigma – King, after all, modeled the character on Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name from Sergio Leone‘s Dollars Trilogy. But by giving too much screen time to Jake, Roland suffers. The only time the film really comes alive is when it lets Elba take control of his character, such as a well-done moment when Roland calmly blocks out a scene of chaos in order to land an impossible shot with his gun.

The Dark Tower Trailer Breakdown 61

The Dark Tower opens with Jake having a nightmare. A group of children, living in some community clearly not on earth, are being used by the evil Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) as weapons. It seems that only a child’s mind can destroy The Dark Tower, and the Man in Black’s plan involves strapping kids who possess the ability to “shine” – just like Danny from King’s The Shining – into a chair and shoot laser beams out of their heads into the Tower.

I have no idea what the hell this is, or what it came from.

This is not in the books, but just like making Jake the focal point of the story, this plot point seems like something a studio exec threw out at a production meeting as a way to simplify the story. In the books, Roland’s quest to find the Dark Tower is enigmatic. Roland doesn’t even know what the Dark Tower is in the books – he just knows that all life springs from it, which means that it may be the home to some sort of all-knowing god. Roland’s quest is a quest for meaning in a meaningless universe, but that’s not exactly something that translates well into a big studio blockbuster. So instead we get stuck with mind-lasers.

The Roland of The Dark Tower movie doesn’t even seem to give a damn about the Tower itself. It’s secondary. What he wants is revenge, because the Man in Black killed Roland’s father (Dennis Haysbert). Roland and the Man in Black do have a history together in the books, as it’s revealed that the Man in Black had an affair with Roland’s mother when Roland was still young. The movie doesn’t have any use for something like this, though. Again and again the message is resoundingly clear: the book is too complicated, let’s dumb it down.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer and critic for /Film, and the host of the 21st Century Spielberg podcast. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at