Review: “The Dark Tower”

The long-awaited film adaption of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” sci-fi/dark fantasy novel series may well go down as the most disappointing movie of 2017. Fans have been clamoring for one since the 1990s, and versions of it have been in and out of development for a decade. Pity them, for the final product is cheap, shoddy, and bland to a confounding degree.

It’s amazing how little winds up on the screen. The source material spans eight King-sized volumes, yet only a thimbleful of the mythology and a minimal number of characters are mined for use. Granted, that’s a lot of printed material to sift through; the filmmakers solution of making the movie a sequel to the books presents its own problems: Will fans accept it, and will non-fans want to bother? The answer to both is: probably not.

Danish writer-director Nikolaj Arcel and three co-scripters make some bone-headed mistakes coming out of the gate. The plot is minimal at best: pre-teen Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has disturbing dreams about a menacing Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who abducts children and uses them to psychically assault a colossal tower at the center of time and space. Standing in his way is a mysterious gunslinger named Roalnd (Idris Elba), to whom Jake eventually becomes a sidekick/hostage/plot device.

And that’s it. Seriously. There’s no mystery, no metaphor, no real world-building, or anything else that made the books engrossing. Nothing exists below the surface of this movie, and the surface can’t even be enjoyed on a visceral level. The paltry $60 million budget is nowhere near enough to realize the sprawling multiverse or even one of the surreal worlds of the source material. The whole movie – half of which is set in contemporary New York City – has the cheap and shoddy look of a B-grade 1990s straight-to-video genre flick.

Worse, the filmmakers have made the absurd decision to push Roland and the Man in Black onto the side stage and focus on Jake, a generic moppet protagonist, which turns the story into something akin to toothless young adult wish fulfillment fan fiction that makes “The Host” look like “Gone With the Wind” by comparison.

However, the biggest sin of the film lies in making both Elba and McConaughey boring to watch – a feat previously considered impossible. Their characters’ motivations are so basic that Elba is reduced to scowling his way through scene after scene while McConaughey channels a poor man’s Christopher Walken. To call the final confrontation between the two a colossal letdown would be generous.

It’s mind-boggling to think that fans have waited so long only to get “The Dark Tower Lite: A Story of Thud and Blunder”.