Howdy, ya’ll. Long days and pleasant nights.
We did it. We saw The Dark Tower, and good news: We didn’t hate it! In fact, we actually rather liked it. Of course, as you’ve probably all figured out by now, we’re pretty easy to please, so do keep that in mind as you’re reading this review. But whatever! We liked it, and we both think it’s a good enough set-up for the world to make us eager to see more. The show got a showrunner, so Sony still seems to want to move forward with the series. We can only hope! Because we need Eddie and Susannah!
But that’s not enough to sate you, is it? And there *are* some missteps that have to be addressed. So dust the Mid-World off your boots and hop through the portal with us; it’s time to talk the Tower.
Super Hubs, the dinh of the MWB tet, starts us off. And as always (or at least most of the time): Spoiler alert.
Super Hubs Gives The Dark Tower a B-
I liked The Dark Tower. Really, I did. I thought it was a fun movie despite its obvious flaws and uneven nature. It’s pretty obvious that there was a lot of studio interference—it would be obvious even if there weren’t dozens of reports about behind-the-scenes drama during post-production. You can feel how scared the executives were of the bizarre nature of the series and the heady themes that studios think you’re too stupid to grasp. You can sense the moment where Jake is supposed to die; a dude in a suit might as well have come onto the screen and said “No, no, no; we can’t have this. The hero has to WIN, don’t you know? The bad guy can’t get away.” You can feel Sony’s fingers tinkering around behind the scenes, like demons from the Prim, twisting the movie into what it became.
If you’ll allow me a bit of a cheesy metaphor: At the beginning of the movie, we get a glimpse of the Tower stretching far above the clouds. A beam of psychic energy slams into its side. We see it from above, and for just a moment the clouds break, giving us a small peek at the world below—a field of scarlet, the roses of Can’-Ka no Rey. And that’s the movie. Every now and then, we get a small peek at the Dark Tower series as a whole, the beauty and majesty of the books and all the reasons we love it. We can see it even through the obvious studio meddling and the sometimes clunky dialogue. We can see it. And by seeing it, we know what could be. There is hope for The Dark Tower yet.
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The movie is told from Jake’s perspective, which will likely irk some viewers; I’ve already heard a lot of people complaining that the movie is a “YA movie.” But I think it was the most sensible thing to do. Tom Taylor does well as Jake, though his voice does noticeably deepen throughout the course of the movie—evidence of the reshoots Sony had them do. It takes a third of the movie before we finally see Roland, but damn does he look good. Idris Elba is perfect. I cannot heap enough praise on him, and he’s a good part of the reason I really hope the series continues. I want to see more of him in the role! I want to see him gain his nobility back, I want to see him draw Eddie and Susannah to Mid-World and form his ka-tet, I want to see him fight a giant robot bear!
Matthew McConaughey plays The Man in Black with a sort of aged weariness that I think is really supposed to play off of how this is a sequel to the books. At times, he seems to know that this isn’t his and Roland’s first go around the Wheel, and you have to wonder if he knows exactly how many times it’s happened. We never really get an explanation for his eagerness to bring down the Tower, but I think it’s because he’s tired of it all.
He’s also unfortunately saddled with the clunkiest exposition in the movie. The most egregious example being: “His guns are made from the sword of Arthur Eld. The people of Keystone Earth call it Excalibur.” This was right in the middle of a scene where it really has no purpose. But when he’s not being made to expound to the audience, he’s actually really good in the role, and if he’s not Randall Flagg in the upcoming remake of The Stand, I’ll be royally pissed!
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All in all, this movie is going to piss of book purists—that was inevitable. But if you go in with an open mind, you might just enjoy it; we certainly did. Nikkie will touch on this more, but I think being such big fans of the book really helped with our enjoyment as we were able to fill in some of the blanks with lore and understanding of the characters that non-book readers wouldn’t have. Give the movie a chance, guys! It’s clunky and messy and altogether too short…but then so was the first novel.
- Walter seemed to have all of Maerlyn’s Rainbow. This could explain his increased powers.
- The movie had some surprisingly good humor, the majority of which came from Jake.
- There was an Oy shoutout!
- So Roland and Jake went to Blue Heaven, which means they were right by the Tower. I wonder how that will work in future movies, since destroying Blue Heaven was such a major part of the end game.
- Jake seems to be able to weaponize his Shine.
- Was that message Jake received about where to find the house on Dutch Hill from Eddie? Probably not, but IT HAD TO HAVE BEEN FROM EDDIE.
Nikkie Gives The Dark Tower a B
Y’all. I was very nervous walking into the theater to watch this movie. Considering how important the Dark Tower series has become to me since I first read it a few years ago—I’m now considering getting the symbol for ka tattooed on my person—I really needed this to be good. So, naturally, when SH started sharing how critics weren’t being nice about this one, I was freaked out. THIS. HAD. TO. BE. GOOD. Knowing that Eddie and Susannah weren’t going to be in this installation, I was desperate for this first attempt to be enough to ensure that we’d get to see one of my favorite interracial literary couples appear on the big screen (because apparently we’re not good enough to get Eleanor and Park).
All this to say that I wasn’t sure what to expect when the trailers were over and the Tet Corporation (A+ for that nod) logo flashed on the screen.
As the final credits rolled, I breathed . . . not a sigh of relief. But I breathed. And I kept breathing. And that was a good sign.
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As SH said, the movie has its flaws; this can’t be ignored. It’s choppy. It’s waaaayy too short, so it forces a lot of things to happen in a time frame that isn’t realistic. And yes, it’s very obvious that Jake was supposed to die at the end. I honestly thought that they were still going to go with that ending, which is from an early version of the script, and that everyone had just done a really good job of keeping it a secret that they’d kept it. I actually finished out the scene in my head, hearing Jake use his Shine to tell Roland that he has to do it to save the Tower. I’ll admit that shooting the bullet Walter was holding to knock it into his chest like a lethal shot in pool was pretty awesome. But at the same time, it was like “But . . . it would’ve been more interesting, and more faithful to the book, if Jake had died.”
But some of the things people have complained about, I wasn’t bothered by. For instance, I’ve heard some didn’t like how little we got to know the side characters, thanks to the fast pace of the movie. But, honestly, what more did you need to know about them? Do you need more about Jake’s dad other than “He’s dead, and Jake is sad about it”? Do you need to know more about Jake’s stepdad other than “He feels that he didn’t sign up for a mentally ill kid when he decided to go after a widow,” or that his mom is willing to ignore the crappy behavior of the stepdad because she just wants to be in a family and legitimately thinks her son is insane? That town Roland takes Jake to doesn’t exist and simply served as a Callas Brynn Sturgis surrogate where Jake learned about his Shine, so who needs to know anything about those people?!
What we should be complaining about is how little we truly get to know our main players. I didn’t think anything was too amiss as I was watching the movie until the scene after they discover that Walter killed Jake’s mom and stepdad. Roland says that he’s going to get revenge for the both of them (because in this iteration, Walter is directly responsible for the death of Roland’s father), and Jake gets mad. Because none of this is about revenge. This is about protecting the Tower and making sure the other worlds (Jake’s included) are saved along with it. But he doesn’t really drive the point home. He just says that and walks away, and Roland’s like “Oh, okay. I feel you, dawg.”
This awkwardly accelerated development was made even clearer to me at the end of the movie, when Roland says he has to return to his world and invites Jake to come with him. In the books, Jake has an actual life that he’s leaving behind; here, he OBVIOUSLY has to go with Roland because it’s not like he’s got anything going for him in NYC anymore.
Driving home from the theater, I realized it had taken me so long to notice the weird way they handled these characters because I was just so excited to see them on screen and was filling in a lot of the blanks. Knowing the deep connection that is forged between Jake and Roland in the books—the former considers the latter his true father—it was far too easy for me to project that into their every interaction. “Yes, Roland is gruff now, but he will love Jake before the end. Of course Jake should try to go for Roland’s gun when they’re getting attacked; he’s a gunslinger and Roland’s son from another world. Why wouldn’t Roland, weak from an infected stab wound, stagger to his feet and use his impressive skills to save Jake from getting kidnapped, and, upon being rescued, why wouldn’t Jake run directly into Roland’s arms? Absolutely all of that should happen!” It’s only after you’re home that you think “But should it really have happened in only 95 minutes?”
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But! I also feel like it’s that very projection that buoys the movie for me. After all, I can only project based on what’s there. I’m not going to look at a rock and call it a marshmallow just because they’re both round-ish. The movie had enough for me to grab on and attach the more concrete, thought-out bits from the book and watch through that lens. The movie clearly knew enough about the relationship between these characters to make it easy for me to pick up the threads. And that’s why, like SH, I have hope.
Because here’s the dirty little secret that the book purists don’t want to admit: THE SERIES IS UN-FILMABLE.
Go with me for a quick walk through some of the highlights of The Gunslinger: Jake recounts his death by getting run over by a car. Roland murders an entire town. Roland rapes a servant of Walter with his gun and possibly aborts the demon baby she may have been carrying. Roland stops a succubus from raping Jake (an 11-year-old, mind you) to death by letting it have a go at him instead. Jake and Roland spend several days in a dark cave and fight off mutated people who don’t speak. Roland goes on a trip through the cosmos. LITERALLY WHAT IS ALL OF THIS?! HOW DID YOU EXPECT IT TO BE TRANSLATED INTO A MOVIE?!
And that was just the the first book. Susannah also dukes it out with an invisible sex demon at one point in the series, Wolves of the Callas is literally just The Seven Samurai with the bad guys wearing Dr. Doom cloaks, and when you see the Rose in the abandoned lot, you’re supposed to see a bunch of brilliant faces in everything and bright colors and hear the voices of a million singing angels. Tell me you really think all of that is achievable, and I will smack you right in your mouth.
Grow up. Changes needed to be made to make this story a little bit more palatable (i.e., a little less rapey, more than likely) and a little easier to film. And while I do wish that one of those changes hadn’t been making Jake’s dad some hero because that meant he had one positive male role model as opposed to none at all, I can’t get that mad. Plus, you know, the whole “This is a sequel/reset” thing.
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So. I think that overall, the movie was good. Despite what you might think. I actually liked that it was fast paced. It just needed 30-45 more minutes, at that same pace, to fill out some of the flat areas. If you take away the knowledge of the books, that’s the main problem with this movie: not enough of it. But what *was* there wasn’t terrible. There have definitely been worse movies, and I think this was a pretty fair shot at trying to jump into the vast ocean that is the Dark Tower series.
For book readers, I can understand why you might not be on board for this. After all, blowing up Blue Heaven?! That’s nuts. But, if it’s any consolation, there’s no way Walter is just straight-up dead. Considering he *is* Flagg and Marten and some other Stephen King baddies, and has died as them, it’s obvious that he can’t be taken down so easily. So I believe that he’ll be back. And when you really think about all the elements that are just too bizarre or difficult to film, I think you’ll see that the plot they went with was pretty strong. It was just the execution that was a little wonky. So that’s why I’m giving this movie such a high grade. Because I don’t like to rate movies, and my love for this series is leading me to grade on a curve. But also because I just pretty genuinely enjoyed the movie despite its flaws. I got caught up in some of the emotional moments, and it was just fun to watch these characters come to life.
Speculation for Upcoming Installments
So as we said in our intro, Sony has greenlit the Dark Tower television series, with Glen Mazarra, one of the former showrunners of The Walking Dead, at the helm. As predicted by many, including us, it’s looking like the series will center around the main story of Wizard and Glass, which is the story of Roland’s first trial as a gunslinger.
But, there’s also rumblings that pre-production has started on the next Dark Tower movie, with the idea that Eddie and Susannah will appear, and that Roland will lose his fingers. So here are a few thoughts we’ve had about how a second movie might work, based on the way this one went down.
- The Odetta/Detta story will definitely be thrown out. Instead, it will be simplified to Susannah having anger issues. Obviously she couldn’t be “normal” because Detta is where she gets her gunslinging abilities. As Detta is where the majority of her anger/rage comes from, it seems like that is how they would boil down that characterization. There could be a way to throw in some other mental illness aspects so that Susannah has to learn how to trust this group of men she’s around, but I don’t think that’s the route they’ll go on now that we’ve already lost the “Everyone is white but her” thing. What would make the most sense is giving her anger issues that she’s tried to bury or ignore, and when she joins this group, they not only let her know it’s okay, but they tell her how to use it to her advantage. But will she still be missing her lower legs?
- The time travel aspect will likely be lost. This is mostly based on Super Hubs’s wish that it’s Eddie who leads Jake to the house in Dutch Hill. In the books, Jake and Eddie were born around the same time, but they were pulled from different points in the timeline, so Jake was a child and Eddie was a young man. But if Eddie was leaving that tip for Jake, then it was probably Adult Eddie.
- Speaking of these new members of Roland’s ka-tet, will it be Jake’s Shine that tells our grumpy dinh that he’s gotta go collect them? What with Walter probably staying dead for a majority of a second film.
- Even if they gave us a longer movie this time around, introducing both Eddie and Susannah is a tall order. They have very rich lives before meeting up with Roland—not good lives, mind you, but lives with a lot going on. As such, there will have to be a lot of condensing of their lives BR (Before Roland). Super Hubs thinks this means that Henry Dean, the “great sage and eminent junkie,” will not show up. Perhaps, like Jake, Eddie will be given the kind of father character that Roland will then obviously replace. But it’s very unlikely that Henry as we know him will be in the movies.
So that’s our review of The Dark Tower, as well as some bonus projecting into the future! We’re probably the nicest post about this movie you’ll find on the interwebs, and we’re not embarrassed by that. It was a good try, and we have faith that they’ll learn from these mistakes moving forward.
So give it a shot. You might be surprised by it. And if you’re not, don’t write off future movies or shows. Because this series is amazing, and it deserves a chance.
May your journey always serve the Beam,
Nikkie and Super Hubs