Agree to disagree. Give it a chance. These are important attitudes to maintain in a world where sites (like this one – yes, I realize) can potentially send out their reviews before the release of a movie, and critics can pan it before it’s ever gotten a chance to reach an audience. “I heard it was awful” is a sentiment you hear a lot, which is often code for “a friend of a friend read on Rotten Tomatoes that it got a 13%, so I’m not going to bother.” You can burn a movie to the ground that way pretty easily.

After seeing The Dark Tower, I found the ubiquitous bashing of it online surprising. “Did we all see the same movie?” I thought while cruising through Twitter. Within minutes of the press embargo being lifted, the film was trending and key phrases like “misfire”, “garbage”, and “f**k up” were being bandied about unanimously. People love to hate on things, and boy oh boy, did they ever hate this movie! I didn’t read a single positive thing.

So, as perhaps a breath of fresh air for everyone considering seeing it but reading nothing but hate online, this review will be told from the point of a view of someone who has admittedly NOT read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Yes, while I am a voracious reader who normally reads first and watches later, in this case, I am but a humble, everyday movie-goer who sometimes enjoys smart films but also sometimes likes to see a helicopter blown up.

The film itself is told from the point of view of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy from New York who has been haunted for a year by nightmarish visions of a dark tower and a man in black. The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) has a team of loyal rat people who wear human skins working for him around the clock. They use the “shine” (psychic power) of abducted children to attack the tower which protects many worlds surrounding it from evil. Dreams. Just vivid, elaborate, horrible dreams. Jake is told this by everyone in his life system, which includes his concerned mother and boorish stepfather who would like nothing more than to get rid of him. To make matters worse, Jake’s visions seem to be connected to a worldwide spate of earthquakes, but he has no way of proving the correlation. The harder he tries, the crazier he looks.

Soon Jake’s parents decide that it is time to send him away for the weekend to a facility for intensive therapy, and he begrudgingly agrees. However, when the employees of the facility come to call, Jake recognizes them for what they are – monsters in disguise. Rat people wearing human masks. Jake is forced to make a break for it and heads for a place he saw in one of his visions. It’s a place he hopes will lead him to a man he’s seen in a vision, too.

Of course, this isn’t just any joe-shmoe Jake’s looking for – he’s a gunslinger. Gunslingers are soldiers from another world that are charged with protecting the tower against those who threaten it. Consequently, this means standing against the man in black.

With some luck and some shine on his side, Jake eventually finds his gunslinger. Roland (Idris Elba), however, is no longer concerned with the fate of worlds and his gunslinger oath. Rather, his priority has become taking vengeance against the Man in Black for killing everyone he’s ever cared about, including his father, a fellow gunslinger. Fortunately, since the two goals align, Jake and Roland end up teaming up, world-hopping and battling their way to the Man in Black’s fortress for one big showdown. The question is: Will they end up keeping the tower standing?

If viewed as a fantasy/action movie with King Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, The Dark Tower is really quite fun. It’s got touching scenes (pretty much anything playing on the father-son motif) and dry humor. It’s got great action sequences, monsters, and effects. It’s got Matthew McConaughey as an overly-tanned warlock! What more could you want?!

However, if viewed through the lens of a book-adaptation, well, you’re just asking for trouble. No film version is going to make the book fans truly happy because the two mediums are apples and oranges. The Dark Tower is cut (some would say “mangled”) down to a short, solid 95 minutes, and it’s just not possible to put the amount of detail from a series into a film, let alone one so short.

Really, the film’s biggest mistake is that it is just confused. It attempts to appeal to both devoted readers who followed the series (seven books in total over a staggered, 20-year release) and fun-loving moviegoers. The result is a hodgepodge; a generic fantasy yet with very specific in-jokes and references. Likewise, the film doesn’t know if it is a standalone film (e.g. will this bomb and just be a one-off?) or a series (e.g. will this be a cash cow that we can milk for all its worth and probably enrage fans in an altogether different way?), so it doesn’t really know what of the series to tackle and what to leave unaddressed.

So, for some this will be the end. For others like myself – again, I’ve not read the series, which as I understand it, is regarded as one of King’s greatest accomplishments – the movie made me want to know more. It made me want to explore that world. To learn the lexicon and know the characters. In fact, it MADE me want to read the books. And, really, doesn’t that count for something?

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