So much is so wrong about The Dark Tower, the stunted film version of Stephen King’s marvelously dense and dazzling series of eight novels, that it’s hard to know where to kick off a critical reckoning. The crux of the problem is that the bestselling author’s magnum opus deserves an open-ended miniseries treatment, akin to what HBO has done with Game of Thrones or Peter Jackson’s treatment of the magnificent cinematic trilogy Lord of the Rings.
Instead, we get a 95-minute movie that plays like a mash-up of King’s mythic themes with no connective tissue. It’s as if director Nikolaj Arcel and co-screenwriters Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker and Anders Thomas Jensen pulled an all-nighter skimming “The Gunslinger” novels and shoved whatever they could remember onto the big screen. Call it The Dark Tower for Dummies.
For those who know nothing about the plot, it involves Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), an allegorical Gunslinger trying to save Mid-World from the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a sorcerer saddled with the name Walter. Old Walt is tasked with destroying the dark tower, which is the only thing stopping monsters from taking over the planet. Is this a metaphor for the Trump administration? Don’t get your hopes up.
The story is told through the eyes of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a lonely child living in New York with his widowed mom and her dickwad of a boyfriend. Like the kid in The Shining, Jake has the “shine” – specifically, an ability to see into other worlds. Jake draws what he sees, involving the Gunslinger and the Man in Black, which makes everyone think he’s crazy. Not the Man the Black, who wants to harness the kid’s power for evil. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
So Jake enters a time portal, zaps into Mid-World and agrees to help the Gunslinger serve up a cold dish of revenge. Battles ensue, along with actors in melting face masks and some really crappy CGI, resulting in everyone mixing it up back in the Big Apple. Also, the Man in Black seems unkillable, except from a bullet from Roland’s gun, which is forged from King Arthur’s sword Excalibur.
Confused? You ain’t heard nothing yet. Arcel wastes the two protean stars at his disposal. Elba does stoic, then more stoic, except for a cool hot dog joke near the end. And McConaughey, perhaps sensing that he’s climbed aboard a sinking ship (reports of a troubled post-production are legion) does his over-caffeinated damnedest to juice things up. Not happening. Though I did like it when Walter strolled around whispering commands to unsuspecting victims. “Hate,” he directs a little girl on a park bench. “Stop breathing,” he tells a dude who annoys him. To audiences, hoping the Man in Black will stroll into their multiplex and oblige the management to “End the Torture, ” I’m down with you on that. This unholy mess shouldn’t happen to a King, much less a paying customer.