Friday, August 4, 2017

The Dark Tower: Perspective #1 - He Who Hath NOT Read The Books

There are two types of people who are going to see this movie - Type #1: Someone who has never read the books, but likes the trailer and/or Stephen King and/or the cast, especially the two leads Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, but knows very little about the actual story. Or Type #2: Someone who has read the books... all of them... probably multiple times... who is filled with joy that they FINALLY made an adaptation of one of the best (if not the actual best) series Stephen King has ever written.

I am Type #2.

Well... not exactly. I kinda read the first three books about fifteen years ago. Here's what I remember from them - I liked them because I read three of them. There is a Gunslinger named Roland. There is a Man in Black. There is a Dark Tower. That's it. So, I think I'm entitled to claim I'm in the Type 2 category. Most of you are aware of these facts. Hell, two of them are in the title. But I'm here to give you my take on the film as a movie fan only. I will not be (because I can't) giving you any breakdown of the movie vs. the book. My friend Matt will do that HERE..

So, I'm guessing your first question is this: is The Dark Tower as bad as critics are saying it is? I mean, as of this moment it stands at a putrid 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. There are Adam Sandler movies with higher scores. My answer is simply no. It is not even close to as bad as the word is spreading it to be. I personally thought the film was quite enjoyable and I have quite a bit of positive things to say about it. There are also some really terrible elements to the movie that I have quite a bit to say as well. But, let's wait just a second for that. For those who don't know, the film stars Elba as Roland, the Gunslinger, in a world outside of ours. He is given the task of protecting "The Dark Tower" which is exactly as it sounds... a huge, dark tower in the center of essentially every universe that keeps the world of demons out of every world. If the Dark Tower is ever destroyed, unspeakable evil will control everything. Roland is to make sure this never happens. Enter Walter, also known as the Man in Black, also known as Alright, Alright, Alright, also known as Matt McConaughey. He's essentially the Devil incarnate and he's out to make sure that the Dark Tower IS destroyed. It has been said (by who... I don't know) that only the mind of a child can destroy the Tower. So, he's out collecting kids to harness the power of their minds to destroy the Tower. Enter Jake, a "troubled kid" with visions of Roland and Walter, who has found his way through a portal to another world. Together, Jake and Roland must take down the Man in Black and save the universe. (Again, this is what I got from the movie's explanations... if I'm off, avid book readers, don't blame me.)

Elba is damn near perfect in this movie. He's a damn near perfect human being in general, but my guess is that fans of the book will all agree (I literally have zero evidence to back this up) that they have found the perfect Roland. He dominates every scene he's in, he's a magnetic action star with acting chops to boot, and a bit of stifled charisma that escapes every once in awhile through the stoicism. His chemistry with Jake, his fight sequences, his entire presence in the film is outstanding. If you're going to see the film for any reason, it should be to watch this man act. However, and this is actually more surprising than Elba being the perfect Roland, McConaughey is AWFUL. I am a big fan of MM. His performances in Mud and Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective and Interstellar and damn near anything he's made in the last seven years have been off the charts fantastic. But, his performance as the Man in Black is quite possibly the worst performance of his entire career (and I've actually seen Fool's Gold). One thing I've learned from this movie is that MM should never be a villain. He doesn't have the credibility for it. He's so much better as a leading man with his intensity mixed with that great southern charm. Here, he hams it up to a cartoonish level. You know in kids movies when they have the bumbling villains (like Blank Check or Power Rangers), he makes those guys look like Hans Landa. I kept waiting for the MM we know and love to shine through and defend that Best Actor award, but he kept doing the opposite. Everything was so over-the-top and muwahahaha-evil that it was unintentionally laughable. I can't lay the blame entirely on him, though. While a lot of the movie is very well-written and characters given decent depth... his lines of dialogue were abysmal. He's a sorcerer with the power to make anyone do anything he wants. So, instead of just waving his hand and a guy is on fire or waving his hand and having a guy aspirate... he actually has to say "BE ON FIRE" or "STOP BREATHING"! It's not scary... it's comical, and it shouldn't be.

But back to the positive. The film was very entertaining. For being a 95 minute PG-13 film, there were some excellent sequences. All of the shootouts were very fun and exciting to watch. There are a couple of scenes where it felt like a PG-13 John Wick. It's the combination of the badass character of the Gunslinger himself and just the badass nature of Elba's entire existence on this Earth. Jake, the kid, was also very good. You take a risk having a child protagonist (who normally comes off as annoying, not thrilling), but they found the right actor in Tom Taylor. The scenes with him and Roland are by far the best scenes of the film, and some of them are quite hilarious (intentionally). However, there isn't much original for Jake to do. He's a very powerful psychic, but doesn't know it. He's just the type of kid the Man in Black is looking for... kinda cliché. I genuinely thought they were going to tell us his midichlorians were off the charts. By doing this though, the film feels watered down. From what I've heard about The Dark Tower series... shit gets dark... like really dark. It's supposed to be very genre-bending and extremely gritty. Yet, this Dark Tower adaptation kinda felt like a YA Stephen King adaptation. Like not as YA as say Divergent... but not too far off. This threw me off a little bit. Yes, I get that we have to world build in the first film. We have to get a lot of information to understand the world and the rules surrounding it. But that doesn't mean we have to "teen" it down. The way I picture The Dark Tower working best is - watch the trailer for Blade Runner 2049 and pay attention to the shots of the desert wasteland. That is how you pull off gritty. That is how I imagine The Dark Tower is supposed to go. I don't want Stephenie Meyer's version.

Here's what I take from this film: it's like a decent pilot episode for a show I'm on the fence about. While it certainly has its many flaws (MM's acting, some CGI moments that looked really bad, some of the on-the-nose explanatory dialogue), I was still intrigued and I was still entertained. If this was the pilot to a show... I'm not turned off by it. I might be slightly annoyed, but I'm still running to watch episode two. If after episode two and three it's still heading toward mediocrity and away from greatness, I might turn it off... but as far as an intro, a pilot, is concerned... I'm definitely interested in watching more. The other thing I take away from it is I have definitely found my next book series to read. I've always been a fan of Stephen King's writing anyway (those of you who think he's niche and have anything negative to say about the man... you don't get good writing... the dude is a genius), but if nothing else I'm definitely reading the books. And while I know it's nearing the end of summer and most of us are heading back to work (if we haven't been working through summer anyway) and there's little to no time left to head to the movies, but if you're even a tad bit interested in checking this movie out, don't listen to RottenTomatoes on this one. Check it out. You'll still have a good time.


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