The long-awaited adaption of Stephen King’s Dark Tower sci-fi/dark fantasy novels may well go down as the most disappointing movie of 2017. Fans have been clamoring for one since the ’90s, and versions have been on and off 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 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. The plot is so spare one wonders if the screenwriters bothered to read the source material, or even made the effort to skim its Wikipedia entry. 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 ’90s 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 focusing on Jake, a generic moppet protagonist, which turns the story into something akin to toothless YA wish-fulfillment fan fiction that makes The Host look like Gone With the Wind by comparison.
However, The Dark Tower‘s biggest sin 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.