Review: ‘The Dark Tower’ is terrible

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2/10 Woe unto you, “Dark Tower.” You did not deserve this.

“The Dark Tower” stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as Roland the gunslinger and Walter, the man in black, respectively. The movie is named after a gigantic black tower that we never get to visit, which protects all worlds from darkness — and yes, that is as detailed an explanation as you get.

Walter is an omnipotent immortal wizard who wants to destroy the tower. He does this by bombarding it with the brains of psychic children. Roland is the last of a line of warriors sworn to protect the tower, but became disillusioned long ago when Walter murdered his entire family. They are brought together by Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), the most powerful psychic child in all the world. Walter wants to kidnap him and bombard the tower with his brain, like he does, but Roland decides to protect him.

“The Dark Tower” is so disjointed and directionless, even on a shot-to-shot level it feels like a Mad Lib. It looks like it was shot mostly in coverage, with director and co-writer of the upteenth and final script Nikolaj Arcel not putting much thought into any of his shots, then edited together almost completely at random.

The only rule seems to be that no shot can last longer than a second or so, even if there’s no reason to cut away. At one point, they cut to three different angles as Roland sits down on a log.

From a story perspective, it also feels like a Mad Lib of randomly sampled fantasy tropes. A truism of art criticism is there is no such thing as a bad story, only a story poorly told, and told this way, Stephen King’s epic, acclaimed seven-novel series feels like a random sampling of fantasy tropes got thrown into a blender.

“The Dark Tower” doesn’t actually have much to do with the novels, of course. It’s intended to be a continuation of the seven-book series but also an introduction for mass audiences who have never heard of it. And if you think that sounds incomprehensibly stupid, you’re right! These two goals are completely at odds with each other, contributing to the plot’s directionless feel.

From a studio perspective, the story behind “The Dark Tower” sounds like a Mad Lib of creative executives who, over 10 years of Production Hell, came up at various points with the incoherent smattering of ideas the final product is made up of.

The movie started life in 2007 with J.J. Abrams directing and Damon Lindelof writing an adaptation of the first book, but they were both so busy with “Lost” that the project never got off the ground. They eventually stepped off and Universal Studios took over the project, and Ron Howard spent six years scheduled to direct three movies, each of which would have two seasons of a television show set to connect them. Akiva Goldsman was attached to write, and Javier Bardem, Viggo Mortensen, Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul and Liam Neeson were attached as leads at separate points. Then in 2015, it was announced that Sony had taken over and Goldsman was reworking the script with Jeff Pinkner, then Nikolaj Arcel signed on to direct and he re-wrote the script with Anders Thomas Jensen. The final movie has four different writers and a former director, Howard, still attached as a producer.

People can sell Mystery Boxes on Ebay — speaking of J.J. Abrams — boxes of what inevitably end up being junk that are packaged and sold as something potentially valuable, and that’s what “The Dark Tower” is. It’s a collection of unrelated junk that has been packaged and sold as something valuable. It is a deliberate rip-off. Do not spend your money on this movie.

For more, visit Leopold Knopp’s movie blog at reelentropy.com.

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