The Dark Tower (2017)
There are other worlds than these
There was once a man who lead us to cancel the apocalypse. He's also been an all-seeing guardian, a boss pilot, a historical figure, and plenty of other things. Most people would argue that he's a dang good actor with a the good luck to only appear in a bad movie once in a while. In most recent times, this one would probably be the one that I heard the most grief about - and, fancy that, it's yet again another Stephen King movie. Strap on your gats and let's find out if I took a shine to this one as well.
I'm going to do my absolute best to hold in a rant that's crawling at my gates much like the demonic monstrosities held at bay by the titular tower of this film, but I make no promises that it doesn't seep out by the end. Preamble: I haven't read this book (or any Stephen King book, still) as you would be able to gather if you've come across any of my other King-based movie snippets. This gives me a rather unique perspective of not being weighted down by the excess baggage of comparisons to it's source material. I could make some assumptions here and there - things like characters probably being more fleshed out over pages and pages of written word rather than on screen action - but I also don't have to because I sat down to watch a movie and have fun, and the only thing that can make or break that is the caliber of the movie (har har, it's a gun pun). Following that ride, I'm gonna tell you that there are some ups and downs in this movie right now.
One of the fine points that exemplify this statement is the effects department. We have some real nice moments and effects in here - things like beasts walking around in skin-suits like literal skin walkers, complete with skin that just doesn't quite fit right or little tufts of fur popping out from the seams. We have demonic monstrosities clawing at the fabrics of existence to try and tear their way past a magical barrier and invade any and all worlds. We have portals to other planes of existence. We even have gun fights, force-like magical psychic abilities, and set-decorations. From best I can tell, this is somewhat a mix of practical and CG, and if it is all CG than they deserve some props for getting that much stuff to look good. That said, there are distinct moments when the effects work looks sub-par compared to the rest, much like Black Panther had moments during fights where it seemed as though things suddenly dropped back a couple years in technology.
The setting itself as a whole here ends up being more interesting than the plot. This long into life, it's hard to find plots that are genuinely surprising or unique - which isn't to say this plot is bad, but rather the mysterious nature of the other-world as presented through it's little information given on screen time does whet the desire to learn a bit more of how this universe all connects together and it's various elements. The concept of gunslingers who function as this sort of defender of the realm, complete with Arthurian-crafted guns giving them this parallel to the Knights of the Round Table with these unexplained powers in particular peaks my interest. Of course, the astute (or mainstream) will also pick up all these other little "connected universe" moments that I feel are way to blunt to be easter eggs (an entire 15 or so seconds hovering on a giant sign that says "Pennywise" and talking about carnivals couldn't be more obvious, despite it building a decent atmosphere of spooky forest and broken down world).
The plot itself, however, boils down a bit to a revenge plot and save the universe plot at it's core. The revenge plot ends up leaving you desiring to know more about the gunslingers - which you won't and that is disappointing to me - whereas the save the universe plot feels a lot more like the standard young kid hero-quest. It's not bad, and does progress much like a game, compete with starting mystery, death, befriending powerful strangers, and then fighting the big bad after developing some powers of your own. Again - the fact that it isn't something new doesn't make it bad, but to say that it doesn't stop it from being particularly impressive would be a lie. Some of this might come from it feeling a bit like a story that's been compressed to shorter than it could be - with all this new world setting and interesting things like gunslingers, shine, seers, demons, and crazy monsters it almost feels as though it would be better suited for a television show where it could stretch things out. I do understand that that sounds outrageous coming from me, considering I love the fact that the movie is under 2 hours long, but I do suppose that's an issue with any movie that sets up a world that interests you really.
The actors do a well enough job for the movie. As with most, there are high and low moments, and some of the more standout moments usually come from the more bizarre moments. Finding a demon (or wizard or whatever) has broken into your house to cook chicken only to moments later command you to stop breathing, which you do because magic, can lead to some mixed emotions of laughter and acceptance. On the one hand, that "I stopped breathing" was spot on, on the other it's also just funny that the bad guy literally just went "stop breathing" and the listener is like "okay!" Our main gunslinger has an alright arc to him, brought about by the kid, and both are relatively well acted for the most part. I will say though, every now and then the kid certainly makes a call that kinda comes off as a head scratcher if you really try and think about it, but as a man seasoned by years of Slasher movies, it didn't bother me that much.
To help supplement all these little plot progressing moments or line deliveries we have some pretty decently done action scenes. They use the cuts they make well, and you never feel as though you are absolutely lost as to whats going on or where anyone is, even if the way a person enters or leaves a screen isn't keeping the location in the logical direction of flow. The movie doesn't necessarily put a hard consistency to it's bullet counts, but it does take the time to show off some neat reloads by the gunslinger, which besides looking cool help to serve the function of showing off the skill of the man, much like his accuracy and efficiency of moments. There are a few "Sherlock" style moments to demonstrate him focusing in on things as well, although largely the second time it feels more like a way of showing off the threat level he is facing than him working everything out.
Audio is well balanced, and for the most part does a good job of setting up atmosphere - be it busy city or spooky woods. It all feels good, and most of the actor's line deliveries are decent enough that you don't feel bad being able to hear them either. The main villain feels like an odd blend of whimsical menacing, in which you know he's strong but some of his actions (like the cooking chicken) come off as quite goofy. Some of the other attempts at comedy are worse or better, although I wasn't really laughing at most the movie nor did I expect to - it's not like it's listed as a comedy. There some real nice moments to the comedy though, as well as just some real nice moments as far as things like "this scene has great atmosphere" or "the action is really cool here," but it is very much only those moments that particularly stand out at all, with most the rest feeling a bit like a standard ole movie experience - which is only bad if you wanted more than that I suppose.
Now, as I promised before, I am still trying to hold back that monster of a rant. That said, I do feel I need to express a little bit of the core of that rant yet again - that of "Good movie vs Good adaptation" and how the two things must not always be the same. I can't speak to how well an adaptation this movie is - but the fact that there was a lot of negativity tells me that it wasn't that great of one. For me, this isn't surprising, considering as far as I've been told this whole Dark Tower / gunslinger thing is actually a series of books, not just one. As a person with no knowledge of the books, I thoroughly enjoyed what I watched. It didn't take an excessive amount of my time, it presented me with some interesting setting and cool action scenes, and nothing was flat out awful during the length of the experience. If anything, this movie would be a great example of potentially driving me towards it's source - if I weren't too lazy to want to devote the incredible amount of time it would take me to get through all these Stephen King works. A lot of other things don't do that, even the good ones. I liked Lord of the Rings, but not once did I ever think "I should pick up the books and read those."
If you are a person who has all that knowledge of "what it could have been," it's perfectly valid to hold the opinion of "the book was better" or "I'm sad they didn't do this or that," but it doesn't automatically make the movie terrible because of it. Just because your parents could have given birth to Elon Musk doesn't mean that you are a crappier son or daughter - you know what I mean? It's good sometimes to let things be different and just accept them at their own face value. Given most reaction, however, I assume that most fans of the books will probably want to stay clear of that - and my penchant for really enjoying the lower echelon of King movies probably proves that. For anyone else though, it's a pretty interesting movie that actually sparks some imagination and interest in various moments, even if it's largely just another movie to check out. I had fun, and who knows, maybe someday I'll need something to read while sitting at a beach somewhere and I'll look into a little Cowboy of the Round Table book.