They say that Jake has bad dreams.
He dreams of another world, a midway point between many realities. A place of swirling dust and dark creatures who stand upright on two legs and wear the misfitting skin of real men. It’s a land controlled by magic, a place that only barely keeps the true darkness and its horrible inhabitants at bay. He dreams of a crumbling tower, a supremely evil Man in Black and a knight with a six-shooter called The Gunslinger.
Each morning when he wakes, Jake feels compelled to draw the images he’s seen and pin his dreams up on the cork board in his room, if only to try and understand what they mean. Then his mom worries. And she redoubles her efforts to get someone, anyone to help her poor troubled adolescent son with his very troubling adolescent dreams.
The problem is … they’re not dreams.
Jake knows without the slightest doubt that his visions are just that—visions. They have nothing to do with his “pent-up anxieties,” his “home life” or the “painful and emotional loss of his father in a deadly accident.” The things he sees when he closes his eyes are quite simply harbingers of something dreadful that will impact them all, something that’s going to happen in a place that he can’t reach.
His visions show him a post apocalyptic land where the demonic Man in Black rules. He kills. He steals away children and sucks out their psychic energies to attack the Tower in hopes of bringing it down. But …
They’re. Not. DREAMS!
And even though everyone around Jake looks in his direction with sad or perturbed eyes, looks that say he’s not quite right, Jake knows just how absolutely right he is. But worse, he’s convinced that he’s the only one who can keep that stony tower from falling, and keep the terrible darkness out.
Jake eventually finds his way to the mysterious land in his visions. There he meets Roland, the Gunslinger, a man solidly set on wreaking vengeance for his own father’s murder. In fact, Roland is so blinded by his rage that he’s abandoned his Gunslinger duties to protect the Tower and the innocent inhabitants of the land of Mid-World.
After meeting and befriending the boy, however, Roland slowly comes back around to understanding that vengeance is a foolish pursuit. He realizes that there are greater responsibilities in life, such as being a father figure to Jake, that take precedence. In fact, Roland eventually recounts the Gunslinger Creed once again, a mantra that repeatedly encourages the user to remember his father’s face—and, as such, hold fast to his father’s teachings.
With time, Roland asks the now-orphaned Jake to travel with him and learn to become a Gunslinger knight.
This film is a very broad representation of the spiritual battle between good and evil. There are no direct parallels to Christian faith, but Jake definitely perceives the Man in Black to be the Devil. And it’s the power of the Tower—a symbol of goodness and light—that keeps “darkness and all demons” separated from “countless” dimensions or lands connected to Mid-World.
As far as that Man in Black goes, he is pretty powerful and evil. His stated goal is to destroy the tower and unleash Hell, and his total control, on every world. He has the ability to manipulate matter around him—everything from grabbing a bullet out of thin air to commanding someone to die on the spot. And though never explained, his skin-mask-wearing minions are definitely creatures of some dank and dark place. “Death always wins, that’s the deal,” the Man in Black crows with glee.
It’s stated that Mid-World is impacted by some form of magic. Roland takes Jake, for instance, to a village Seer, who can manipulate some of those forces. She reports that Jake has a “Shine,” a Force-like psychic energy that he begins to control. (He reads someone’s mind at one point and fights back against some of the Man in Black’s attacks.) It’s that energy that the Man in Black tries to harness when he straps kidnapped children into a large machine he’s created.
We also see some demonic entities. A small tear in the supernatural wall around Mid-World allows some shapeshifting creatures in. One takes the form of both Jake’s and Roland’s dead fathers before Roland shoots at it. There’s also a large, demonic beast that attacks Roland and Jake. A large demon takes shape in a body made of floorboards and grabs Jake.
Two girls dressed in shorts and tight T-shirts on a bus ask Jake and Roland if they can join their “party.” Roland frowns disapprovingly in their direction, suggesting that they have forgotten their father’s face.
The death-dealing on hand is nearly completely bloodless, but there is certainly an ample amount of it.
The Man in Black commands several people—including Roland’s father—to “stop breathing,” and the people drop over dead immediately. He also conjures up a palm full of flame to burn two people to cinders (though in both cases the actual flesh burning is off camera).
When he gets angry at some of his skin-mask minions, he unleashes his deadly discontent with a shrug, too. In one case he grabs a woman’s face, rending and burning her skin. In another he commands a man and woman to kill each other, and they instantly begin tearing at each other in a restaurant.
We also see the Man in Black strap young kids into a mechanized contraption that leaves them screaming with tortured cries. After killing someone special to Jake, the Man in Black leaves magical images of her death behind that play out in the boy’s imagination.
There is, of course, an onslaught of trigger-pulling kills doled out by Roland, too. In one scene, he pulls out all the stops and systematically uses his sharpshooting skills to fell scores of foes on several floors of an abandon warehouse. The skin-mask adversaries are blown up in explosions, impaled with knives, riddled with head- and upper torso shots and sent tumbling off high ledges. And that’s only one scene of many where the bodies start to stack with the many kills.
One particular Gunslinger battle gets a bit more up-close and personal as Roland is chucked around and hit with large concrete slabs and his foe is shot repeatedly and toppled with a (bloodless) bullet to the forehead. We see the lightly bloody aftermath of a stab wound to Roland’s shoulder and, later, a shard of glass jammed through his palm.
When the Tower is hit with a blast of energy in Mid-World, that results in a large earthquake in ours. Jake punches a school bully in the face.
One misuse each of Jesus and Christ. There are also two s-words and a handful of uses of “h—.”
After Roland is hurt, Jake takes the Gunslinger to a local hospital where he’s given an IV infusion. He also gets some painkillers: He gulps down a handful of them with a can of Coke. Roland then proclaims that he feels better then he has for years. “Yep, we’ve got the best stuff,” Jake opines.
While in our world, Jake gives Roland a hotdog and the man balks at the idea, wondering “What breed?” The Man in Black tortures Jake’s physically paralyzed mom with painful statements about her son.
After a couple misfires (which involved big directing names such as J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard), a film based on author Stephen King’s fan-beloved Dark Tower series has finally made its way to the big screen. This version, too, has seen some struggles, being reportedly plagued by production fumbles, last-minute re-edits and release-date pushbacks.
In spite of all that, however, here it is. And the end result is an action-adventure sci-fi Western, with a dash of magic and horror mixed into its DNA.
On the plus side of things, this surprisingly entertaining genre-mash-up does have a compelling dust-blown-gunslinger-in-a-leather-duster hero who’s easy to like, thanks to actor Idris Elba’s steady portrayal. The Gunslinger’s father-like relationship with young Jake and his gradual turn from heated vengeance to making brave, self-sacrificial and compassionate, loving choices is definitely praiseworthy. And we find a strong dramatic proclamation made that even the most powerful of evil can be faced down by the earnestness of, and belief in, good.
Less admirable are the dark and demonic things of this broad fantasy. The snarling, slavering beasties in the night and the Man in Black’s icy chilled death-dealing. And, of course, there are the scores of victims who fall because of the Gunslinger’s gunslinging.
Granted, those blasted-away baddies are all dark creatures who simply disguise their true countenance with a skin mask of humanity. But frightened younger viewers may have a tough time discerning between a pile of dead men and the dead nasty creatures that hide beneath their skin.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.