It just premiered here on the movie channel I'm subscribed to. I'm glad I didn't pay extra money for it on blu-ray, or went to see it at the cinema. It wasn't particularly worse than I expected, but unfortunately also not better. It's real flimsy as a film. The central conflict is explained easy enough in the simplest terms (the map Roland draws), so, yes, it's understandable to those with no prior knowledge of it. But any other specifics beside that central idea of the Man in Black wanting to rule over the darkness, are left out: who are these creatures working for him, how did he set up his whole operation etc.
I think the best part was what took place in Mid-World, but this was the smallest part of the movie unfortunately. Even though none of the characters get fleshed out, I thought Claudia Kim as Arra stood out positively. Some locations looked nice, but they had already been shown in the trailer, there was not much new.
The whole film missed a kind of vision or feel, it was all presented in such a matter-of-fact way. I think in the wastes of the amusement park, you see very shortly a glimpse of a Charlie the Choo Choo train, but it's hardly noticeable.
Overall the film just seemed to lack the money to do it properly (60 million is not a lot for a big fantasy film, for example Warcraft had a 100 million more), so you get something that only gets halfway there.
For example, if this was really Jake's film it should have included Oy, since he's so linked to him. But it had to be done as CGI in many scenes, so it was probably too expensive. Roland refers to some raccoons talking on tv, and it only makes the omission of Oy more poignant.
I thought the film became worse when they go through the portal and Roland sees New York for the first time. He is alarmed by seeing a cook with a knife, but surely he can understand that - there were cooks in Mid-World (like Hax). The film almost becomes a comedy here: he was surprised by many things in our world in the books, but here he almost seems dumb. He says 'You have forgotten the face of your father,' to some prostitutes, but he himself lost his virginity to a prostitute. It just doesn't make sense within the character.
On the positive, I liked the soundtrack by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg, he was a very well known DJ here, I've seen him do a live set) - it managed to still slightly give the film the feeling of something epic. Also nice to see Katheryn Winnick in something contemporary, as I love Vikings.
The film also has quite a tempo and you can accuse it of many things, but it's not boring - it still manages to cram a lot into what's only 85 minutes (there's 5 minutes of end titles). But the thing is that it was inspired by Italian westerns (as still evidenced in the film on the cinema marquee in the final scene) and those are generally slow, with gun fights being stretched out to the maximum, not at all like the fast action you see in the film.
There was potential here. Even while Idris Elba remains an odd choice, the three main actors are good. I think even though they tried to make the most out of what was too limited a budget, it ends up truly mediocre.