The Dark Tower – Like Watching People You Don’t Know Play Dungeons and Dragons

The Dark Tower incorporates elements from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger and other novels in the series into a condensed/derivative story for protagonist Roland Deschain, the titular gunslinger (Idris Elba). There’s a Dark Tower that protects various parallel universes, including ours, from a dimension full of demons. The Man in Black (aka Walter, portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) wants to destroy the tower and let the demons in. His plan involves strapping children into a big psychic cannon, painfully extracting their psychic energy, and blasting the tower with it. Roland, once a member of the mystical, knights-of-the-round-table-like order of Gunslingers, is a broken man simply bent on revenge. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a kid in present day New York with massive psychic ability who sees visions of all of this, but no one believes him, so he is subjected to escalating levels of psychiatric treatment.

That’s basically it as far as story goes. The Bad Guy wants to do Bad Things. The Wonder/Chosen Child of the Month is the key. The Fallen Hero trudges through his redemption arc. But the whole thing plays out like watching some random strangers play Dungeons and Dragons. There’s the one guy who’s really into his character and puts a lot of effort into role playing (Elba), the guy who just blandly plays his stat sheet (Taylor), and the guy who you’re not quite sure what he’s trying to do (McConaughey). They play through a bunch of standard linear quests. The non-player characters are little more than disposable props who show up just long enough to advance the (thin) story with about a paragraph’s worth of description/development. And how can we have an adventure without an orc attack? Finally, the script calls for them to reach the finale. It looks bad for the heroes, but one guy declares a ridiculous called shot, impossible even by the game’s very loose laws of physics. The game master lets him roll for it anyway, and wouldn’t you know, he gets a natural 20.

You can usually count on Jackie Earle Haley to at least inject an entertaining level of menace or weirdness into his character, but even he phoned in his portrayal of Sayre, the leader of bunch of guys working for Walter for some reason.

Much of the story is inexplicable, like Walter’s determination to destroy the Dark Tower. It’s the central element of the plot, but it’s never made clear why he wants to do this. He’s nigh omnipotent as it is, and he can travel the worlds at will. We’re never told what he hoped to gain by setting the demons loose. Presumably, if I had read all the novels, I’d understand why he was trying to destroy the tower, and maybe I’d care more about the characters. But I didn’t read the novels, so I don’t, and I don’t.

The movie’s biggest sin is that it manages to be boring, especially in what’s supposed to be the climactic confrontation. Superhuman revolver tricks were cool during the 2-minute trailer, but got old over the movie’s 95-minute runtime.

Potentially useful safety tip: If you are poisoned by a demon and on the verge of death, antibiotics will clear that right up for you.

Overall rating: 4.5/10

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