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The Dark Tower (Movie Review)

The Dark Tower (Movie Review)
08.05.2017by: Eric Walkuski
3 10

PLOT: The fate of a tower that holds the universe together is in peril as a wizard attempts to destroy it, and only a mythical "gunslinger" and a boy with powerful psychic powers can stop him.

REVIEW: There's a mantra used by the protagonist in THE DARK TOWER that goes like this: "You have forgotten the face of your father." To have done this in this story means you have disgraced your ancestors and your legacy, you have basically made an ass of yourself. To say that THE DARK TOWER movie, the long-awaited first adaptation of Stephen King's epic 8-book series, has definitely forgotten the face of its father is an understatement.

Not only is it a disservice to King's sweeping, inventive fantasy (full disclosure: I've only read the first four books), it is a half-baked mess on its own. I would have been mildly satisfied if it had strayed from the books severely but still ended up being a halfway enjoyable movie, but it's silly and incomprehensible in fatal ways, wearing all the marks of a project that has been chopped up, rewritten, basically screwed with in general. Some of it is so lame that I had visions of the late-night cable movies I used to watch as a kid in the '80s, only this one has (moderately) better visual effects. This is not what I want to be saying about a beloved Stephen King property in 2017.

As a reader of half the books and a massive fan of King, I try to judge this film on its own merits; I walked into it knowing the filmmakers had taken great liberties with the story in order to make it more easily digestible for a wide audience (it's being called a sequel to the book series but it might as well be a "re-imagening"). But THE DARK TOWER is a non-starter, a garbled and foolish undertaking that won't get anyone interested in exploring this world any further. Fans of the title will rightfully turn their backs on this thing, while newcomers will scoff at how haphazardly realized the undertaking is. Hopefully they seek out the books; 90 minutes roaming a used book store would be a much better usage of their time.

To describe the plot of the film is a pointless undertaking, since not even director Nikolaj Arcel and his team of writers (including the dreaded Akiva Goldsman) can seem to make heads or tails of the source material, but basically it involves the struggle between good and evil over the fate of a mythical tower that brings balance to the universe. A bad man called Walter (Matthew McConaughey) wants to destroy it and unleash a flurry of demons upon the world (for some reason), while noble gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba) does everything he can to protect it. A young boy in present day New York named Jake (Tom Taylor) has a psychic power ("the Shine," natch) that Walter can use to totally destroy the tower, putting him in in the evil wizard's crosshairs and making Roland a grudgingly protective mentor.

Who the hell is this villain and why does he want such destruction? The movie doesn't bother even scratching the surface of that. And if your argument is, "Well, we have to wait and see" then you must be a studio executive, because that's no excuse otherwise. The movie barely bothers getting into the mythology of this vast universe, leaving us perplexed and frustrated while tiny strands of compelling information are introduced and then snatched away over and over again. The movie is overstuffed with bits of ideas that mostly go unexplained. There's a character played by Fran Kranz who is basically a computer nerd who works for Walter. He wears a cardigan and buzzes around an intergalactic portal room like a stressed-out IT guy. Who the hell is this character? Why is he dressed the way he is? Where has he come from? This isn't "wait until the next movie" type stuff, it's just bad filmmaking.

It says something about the state of things when the generic fish out of water comedy bits are among the only sections of the movie that actually amuses. Roland is transported to New York from his arid wasteland of a home and is confronted with all the predictable culture clashes that you'd expect (He rides the bus! He eats a hot dog!), and this stuff is mildly entertaining while being completely expendable story-wise. Part of that is because Idris Elba is just great, he is a perfect Roland and one of the lone commendable things about this film. If the filmmakers decide to reboot this thing (and they should), Elba must stay on; everything else can go.

For his part, Matthew McConaughey struggles with a role that is badly written and predictable. Walter may be a fantastic villain in the books, but here he is a typical quippy bad guy. (His powers are confusing: He has the ability to do almost literally anything - including kill people with words - but he's constantly relying on subordinates to help him find Jake.) You can often tell McConaughey is trying to will this character into something cool and fun, but there's nothing there for him to work with. As written, he's completely forgettable. That said, there's a scene where he cooks chicken for a couple of victims that is about to go down in bad movie history.

Almost every sequence in this film is dull. The third act, which mostly takes place in a nondescript factory, is bland and unexciting, as Roland battles it out with machine gun-toting henchmen. (Yes, all this magic and wizardry flying around and we just get a gun fight at the end.) Roland and Walter's big showdown is similarly a letdown; a truncated bout that lasts about 2 minutes when you'd assume a kickass finale was owed. We've sat through a complete botch-job of a movie thus far and a rock n roll finale isn't even waiting for us at the end.

I really wonder what Stephen King thinks of this thing. He has so far expressed his support of it, but I find it hard to believe that the creator of eight complete novels is satisfied with this end result, which is almost pitiful in how inconsequential it is. As mentioned before, if any property cries out for an immediate reboot, it is this one. THE DARK TOWER is a waste of time, an unsightly piece of rubbish that has no business being on the big screen, especially considering how much effort has gone into getting to this point. Let's forget it happened and start anew.

Extra Tidbit: THE DARK TOWER opens August 4th

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