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The Dark Tower trailer is finally here

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

After months of anticipation, the trailer for The Dark Tower is here, and while it can’t hope to encompass everything that made Stephen King’s eight-book fantasy-Western epic beloved by fans, it has plenty of the elements they were hoping for.

Compact and visceral, the trailer does a great job summing up the core conflict at the film’s center: Our hero, the weary, isolated Gunslinger Roland, is Idris Elba, in a part that seems to finally be worthy of his long-delayed mega-star potential. Roland follows Matthew McConaughey’s Man in Black across a desert landscape, seeking revenge and trying to make his way to the Dark Tower, a metaphysical cosmic nexus that holds the key to restoring Roland’s burned-out husk of a world — and to destroying our own.

As he pursues the Man in Black, he’s pursued himself by Jake (Tom Taylor), a boy from New York City whose visions of the Gunslinger and his world have led him to cross the border between universes. Eventually, Jake leads Roland back to New York to finish his pursuit of the Man in Black before he destroys the tower and causes both worlds to fall.

With a stylish and gritty trailer that balances action with world-weary exhaustion, The Dark Tower appears to be a welcome change from the familiar crop of superhero-laden fantasy. The Gunslinger’s path isn’t glorified, and The Dark Tower seems to be tonally in line with this year’s earlier cinematic deconstruction of heroes, Logan. It’s also definably Stephen King, using an adolescent boy with a head full of mysterious dreams as our envoy to an epic, monster-filled world.

Director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, A Royal Affair) has a difficult job in packaging a complex eight-book series into a feature-length story — though a reported follow-up television series, also starring Elba and Taylor, will presumably share that burden. So it’s a bit odd that with all that story, the trailer actually repeats footage at one point, showing us near the end an action sequence it already showed us in the beginning.

In fact, the story itself may be a key to why this happens: The Dark Tower is a story full of cycles — so much so that the new film is simultaneously an adaptation of the books and (spoilers at the link) a sequel to them. So this repeat moment may be a nod to fans that the series’ cyclical nature hasn’t been ignored.

The trailer also alludes to one of the things King fans love most about the series: the Dark Tower purportedly connects nearly all of Stephen King’s books to one another in an overarching universe. We get a taste of this during the scene in José Zúñigas therapist’s office:

Sony Pictures

Yep. That’s the Overlook Hotel. Later on, we even catch a glimpse of Pennywise the Clown from It, looming in front of what appears to be a dilapidated carnival attraction bearing his name:

Sony Pictures

Although some fans are already complaining that the film’s script seems to be fashioned mainly from clichéd one-liners, there’s a potential reason for that — King himself took a hatchet to Roland’s movie dialogue, making sure he says as little as possible. On the whole, the trailer suggests a well-done film that’s faithful to King’s narrative, and that may be enough to make this longshot one of the surprise hits of the summer.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified actor José Zúñiga. We regret the error.

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