I know nothing about the source material but this is one of those films which feels like things went wrong from the very beginning. Apparently a huge part of the problem is that it is a fairly normal length movie adapted from a novel series that is over 4,000 pages long. So no wonder.
The movie gets off to a really bad start: I am fine with getting plunged into a world with no reference, I actually think it’s a good way of doing things. But the way this movie does it is all wrong. First, there is some text on the screen giving us a very brief description of the tower, which does not really give us much confidence. (I don’t like text descriptions as plot explainers.) But then, after the text, we are plunged into the world with no explanation. This is a fine thing to do when there are characters to ground us, but it doesn’t work when there are no characters. And when you’re in someone’s dreams, there are no characters.
The film really starts when we meet the kid who is dreaming, which should have been the first scene of the movie. It’s not good when you are watching a movie and you think you can edit better than the editor.
But things do pick up after we are grounded in the kids’ world. It’s at least a normal movie at this point, instead of something awful, which the intro suggests. It’s pretty standard stuff: a kid knows something and nobody believes him, including his mother. But it’s reasonably effective.
The biggest problem with the film from this point on is the lack of world-building. I guess this is intentional, since the kid is the audience surrogate, but it feels like a conventional movie would at least explain some of the deeper mythology of the books, but there’s very little of that here.
Both McConaughey and Elba are effective in their roles but it would be nice if there was more to the story around them. In fact, I’d say this is one of those films where the actors are definitely not the problem.
The climax is pretty silly, too. It feels rushed and Elba’s character does some pretty absurd stuff to get to the final showdown. And that showdown feels a little like it was cribbed from other films.
I’m sure if I had read the books, I’d be more angry, but since I haven’t, I just think it’s mediocre.