If you’re thinking about writing a story set in a derelict amusement park: don’t. In fact, one way not to be a shitty hack is to avoid any idea that’s already been done by both R. L. Stine and Scooby Doo. But, if you just can’t resist the allure of the mossy, spooky vacant rollercoaster, for fuck’s sake, go balls to the wall. Know why it’s there and know what you want to say. And make it worth it. Use the shit out of that busted down roller coaster or the collapsing Tilt-a-Whirl. Go bananas with the crumbling fun house.
The Dark Tower is set partially in an ancient theme park on an earthlike planet in an alternate universe, but I have no God damn idea why. Neither does the movie. It puts it in there and then wastes the opportunity. When they do have someone run through it, the sequence is in the dark to cover up low-grade special effects. But that’s the way most of this turd is: so much stuff, so little appreciation or understanding of what it’s for. It’s like first-graders with a cheese platter.
The Dark Tower is a drab, unimaginative adaptation of eight Stephen King books I’ve never read. A lot of people who go to comic book conventions have, or at least the comic adaptations of them. The series appears to be some sort of convoluted, soaring mythology. It’s high concept shit about good versus evil. At the center of the cosmos stands the titular dark tower. It is the only defense for mankind on earth and on myriad alternate earths, against something that is pure evil and monstrous. If the tower falls, we’re all fucked.
A bad guy named the Man in Black (played by Matthew McConaughey), but who is not Johnny Cash, wants to bring down the tower and let the evil in to destroy everything. Why? Your guess is as good as mine because the movie never says. The movie doesn’t bother to make him interesting, or fill in the details. McConaughey plays the villain like he does himself in those Lincoln commercials only pissier. He ‘s not scary. He seems less likely to destroy everything than he is to throw a tantrum if his table at the California Pizza Kitchen isn’t ready.
If you’re going to be evil, you might as well have some fun with it, like Darth Vader or this meth dealer the Harelip was dating and who had sold tainted product at the high school. We later learned starved his mother and shoved her in the crawl space. But at least he used to wear women’s wigs to the Tavern and lip-sync to Taylor Swift songs.
The Man in Black’s grand scheme to harness the psychic energy of children to bombard the Dark Tower with lasers. He is aided by a band rat people slaves with fake human faces who travel to earth to kidnap sullen teens. They have their eye on one particularly promising kid named Jake (Tom Taylor), a mopey New York kid whose daddy died.
The last line of defense to stop the Man in Black are a band of roaming wild west sharpshooters, like Paladin -- Have Gun, Will Travel. Except only one is left and he’s called Gunslinger. He’s played by Idris Elba, who is a reliably bad ass guy: a big, solid and serious presence. He wanders around what looks like the canyons of Utah with some sort of shitty backdrop paintings with two six-shooters and a leather vest. He is hunting the Man in Black, he says, yet he’s on the wrong planet. So, he might shoot sharp, but as written a dumbass relying on dumb luck in order to find his target.
That New York boy with psychic powers somehow stumbled upon a portal that sucks him out of the city and into a red rock canyon where he befriends the Gunslinger. They set out to travel across either a land or a dimension, or who the fuck knows, to kill the Man in Black.
You got all that? Wild west, modern New York, interdimensional portals, untold evil, rat faces, psychic children, old amusement parks, a vague similarity to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. Maybe a little Time Bandits, too, but way less fun. It’s a hell of a lot to unpack, and the movie does it like it’s unzipping one of those vacuum-packed storage bags of clothes under the bed, and discovering someone left a tuna fish sandwich in a coat pocket, lo those many years ago. Maybe this shit makes sense spread out over eight books. Or at least maybe it makes readers care. The movie doesn’t.
The Dark Tower is a muddled heap, a load of ideas that maybe would be cool if someone had focused on a few of them, or put more originality into any of them. Even the obvious bits, like a Gunslinger loose in modern New York, are presented without imagination and minimal style. The various elements come and go in this movie more like references for the fanboys to check off than they do like good storytelling. It’s Costco moviemaking: familiar ideas in bulk.
Worse is that the characters are so fucking dull. They aren’t given much past, except the Gunslinger and kid both have dead dads. That’s Grassfucker shorthand for, “Please just feel sorry for these characters because we’re not going to bother filling them out.” Maybe a dead parent is okay, but not when it is all I can remember about the characters. If the kid is so psychic, why has nobody noticed before? If the gunslingers are so beloved, why have they failed so miserably? If The Man in Black wants to destroy the world, why? Why are they all so fucking one-dimensional and boring?
The movie also looks cheap. The special effects came out of the 90s. The interdimensional portals are cheesy. The painted backdrops are obvious. The giant laser and the Dark Tower look like miniatures from an Eastern European TV show. Did anyone fucking care about making anything in this movie feel special?
Stephen King should stop letting Hollywood make movies out of his books. The guy has a shitload of money, and the hit to miss ratio of his adaptations is about as low as that of Andruw Jones when he was with the Dodgers. After Thinner and Dreamcatcher and all the other stinkbombs, he should give us all a break. We can’t take any more the shit borne from his work. Two Fingers for The Dark Tower.