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REVIEW: ‘The Dark Tower’ is a gripping good-vs.-evil tale, with caveats

It was partially inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” So, is it family-friendly?

August 4th, 2017 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘The Dark Tower’ is a gripping good-vs.-evil tale, with caveats

We’re told from the beginning that a tower “stands at the center of the universe,” and it’s “protecting us from darkness.”

No one on Earth knows about this mystical tower, although one New York City boy, a pre-teenager named Jake Chambers, has hints. That’s because he has dreams every night about the tower and a host of other weird things: a galactic gunslinger, an evil “man in black,” and celestial beings. He then turns those visions into sketches that adorn the walls of his room and decorate his school notebook.

“When is the apocalypse coming?” one schoolmate mockingly asks.

His mom, too, thinks he’s a little strange, having scheduled numerous counseling sessions that have done little good. He even warns the counselor: The man in black is trying to destroy the tower!

Jake seems destined to a life of ridicule. That is, until people from those other worlds come to Earth and try and kidnap him. Maybe now everyone will believe him.

It’s all part of The Dark Tower (PG-13), which opens in theaters this weekend and is based on Stephen King’s eight-book series that he said was inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," and 1970s-era Italian Westerns (also called Spaghetti Westerns).

It stars Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black, Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, and Idris Elba (Zootopia, Thor, Prometheus) as Roland Deschain, a superhero-type gunslinger who is the sole remaining member of a cosmic gunslinger posse that fights bad guys.  

With the help of Roland, Jake pieces it all together: the Man in Black is a sorcerer on a mission to topple the Dark Tower, thus unleashing “darkness and demons” throughout the universe. Can Jake and Roland stop him?

Despite a few plot holes, worldview concerns and content problems, The Dark Tower is an entertaining good-vs.-evil tale. It’s also one of my favorite films of the year.

Here are the details:

Warning: minor to moderate spoilers ahead!

Violence/Disturbing Images

Excessive but not overly bloody or gory. A character punches another character at Jake’s school. The Man in Black’s “army” burns a village. We see several battle scenes, with plenty of bullets and dead bodies. (There is lots of gun-fighting in this one.) The Man in Black’s minions are demons who literally “wear” human flesh, and a few times, that flesh comes peeling off. They’re involved in a few chase scenes. Other times, we see children from Earth strapped in chairs and then (apparently) incinerated to harvest their “energy.” The Man in Black has Vader-like powers and can kill people on the spot. He sometimes shouts “darkness and fire!” when doing so. He tells two of his demons to fight to the death; they do (but we don’t see it). We see a few CGI demonic creatures.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None.

Coarse Language

Moderate. I counted 11 coarse words: h-ll (4), misuse of “Christ” (2), misuse of “Jesus (1), misuse of “God” (2), d--k (1), s--t (1). Note: Most, if not all, of the abuses of God’s names take place early in the film by a single character (not Jake or Roland).

Christian Images/Dialogue

None, although we do see a graffiti-sprayed “All Hail The Crimson King.” It’s not referencing God.

Other Positive Elements

The love between Jake and his mom plays a central role, as does his longing for his deceased father. Similarly, we see Roland having fond flashbacks to his father. It all made me want to hug my kids tighter.

Other Negative Elements

There are some worldview problems. We’ll discuss those below.

Life Lessons

Bravery and courage are promoted, yet the emphasis on fatherhood deserves the most attention, particularly coming within a modern Hollywood film. Roland often quotes the gunslinger creed, which says in part: “I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.” But what does forgetting the face of your father mean? It means you’ve forgotten what you were taught. It means you’re not honoring your father. This is underscored when he bumps into two prostitutes on public transportation: “You’ve both forgotten the faces of your fathers.”  

Worldview

Stephen King grew up a Methodist and abandoned organized religion as an adult, although three years ago he said he chooses to “believe that God exists.”

“[T]herefore I can say, ‘God I can’t do this by myself. Help me not to take a drink today. Help me not to take a drug today.’”

King’s views on Christ are unclear, but we do know that the God of the Bible is absent from The Dark Tower film. It has seers and psychics. It has a boy who has powers strong enough to kill a demon. It has a tower that emits magical energy that shields us from evil. It promotes dualism, whereby good and evil apparently are equal. In other words, it has some of the same elements of our favorite Star Wars films. 

Honestly, there is a lot to like about The Dark Tower. The evil guys are truly evil—instead of modern-day gray—and the good guys are trying their best to defeat them. It’s a cosmic battle that can serve as a reminder of our real-life cosmic spiritual battle. And don’t forget Roland, the superhero. He hops from planet to planet, doling out justice and making things right. We find it easy to cheer for him. It’s as if we innately desire for someone greater than ourselves to come to our planet and do the same! Of course, we do.

Family-Friendly?

This one’s not for kids. But teens? Maybe.

What I Liked

I’m a guy. I enjoy Old West-type gun fights.

The chemistry between Roland and Jake is great. Also, Roland’s quirky interactions with Earthlings is hilarious. (Offered a hot dog, he asks what “breed” it is.)  

What I Didn’t Like

There are a few holes in the plot. What, again, is the tower? (Read the books … or wait for the sequels.) And what is the relation between children and the tower?  

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

I didn’t read the books. But I do know that the film is a fun John Wayne-style science-fiction show. Without hesitation … thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should Christians watch movies with sorcery and magic? Name some films in this genre that you like/don’t like.  
  2. Fatherlessness is a major problem in our society; describe how fathers were portrayed in this film. Was it in a positive or negative light?  
  3. Does God still use dreams to speak to people?
  4. What did you think of the “scary parts”? Are we as a society becoming desensitized to on-screen scary images?  

The Dark Tower is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.