It: Chapter Two | Andy Muschietti | September 6, 2019
Sometimes It floats, sometimes It sinks.
After 27 years, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) has returned to feed on the children of Derry, Maine. Fulfilling their childhood promise, it’s up to the Losers to reunite to defeat the evil they thought was long-dead. While occasionally scary with some creative visuals and solid performances, IT: Chapter 2 is unnecessarily long, over-reliant on CGI (as was its predecessor), and lacking the heart of the first film.
This movie is REALLY counting on the fact that you saw, remember the events of, and loved Chapter 1, as it opens with preteen Bev (Sophia Lillis) floating in Pennywise’s deadlights. It’s implied that this experience gave her precognitive abilities, but this idea is totally abandoned and never mentioned again after the second act. After a brief tour of the town circa 2016, we’re reintroduced to the horrors of modern Derry in the form of the infamous homophobic assault on Adrian Melon (Xavier Dolan), followed by a familiar clown finishing the job. (The fact that there were several audience members laughing during this scene in the screening I attended served as a depressing reminder of how relevant it still is 33 years after the novel was published.) An adult Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa stepping in for Chosen Jacobs) investigates the crime scene, only to realize he needs to summon his childhood friends – Jaeden Martell’s grown-up Bill played by James McAvoy, Jeremy Ray Taylor’s grown-up Ben played by Jay Ryan, Jack Dylan Grazer’s grown-up Eddie played by James Ransone, Sophia Lillis’ grown-up Bev played by Jessica Chastain, Finn Wolfhard’s grown-up Richie played by Bill Hader, and Wyatt Oleff’s grown-up Stanley played by Andy Bean – back to Derry to defeat Pennywise.
It’s commendable that Muschietti didn’t feel the need to follow the book beat-for-beat, but not all the changes make sense or work to the film’s advantage. For example, in the book, Mike’s mother and father are arguably the most loving and attentive parents, and Mike picks up his love of studying the past from his amateur historian father. In the movie, Mike’s parents are drug addicts who die in a fire that they were implied to have accidentally started. The fact that two of the only black characters from the book were demoted from loving parents to crackheads in this adaptation leads to very unfortunate implications. Towards the end of the movie, it is also implied that a character’s suicide was a noble act of self-sacrifice, which is just irresponsible.
The film’s length also works against it. The nearly three-hour movie, written solely by Conjuring Universe scribe Gary Dauberman, features two scenes of the Losers in-fighting and threatening to leave Derry, which slows the momentum and makes us forget why these people cared about each other in the first place. There are plenty of flashbacks to the Losers as kids, and one genuinely touching sequence cutting back and forth between the kids and the adults demonstrating how much has (and hasn’t) changed. However, the kids have chemistry that the adults just don’t have, and the flashbacks continually remind us of that.
Bill Hader’s performance as adult Richie is one of the highlights of the movie. In addition to providing genuine comic relief, he has some surprisingly emotional scenes and more dimension than the miniseries and book versions of the character. Skarsgard is creepy as ever as Pennywise, but he’s given very little to do – it felt like he had about twenty lines in the whole movie. Chapter 2 relies on CGI to do the heavy lifting to a baffling extent. For example, a small amount of blood on a character’s face is computer-generated when a practical effect would have been cheaper and looked more realistic. That said, there are some frightening, great-looking images; particularly Bev (Jessica Chastain) and Richie’s run-ins with Pennywise once they return to Derry.
Overall, It: Chapter 2 feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. The themes of friendship and connecting the past to the present are there, but the lack of chemistry between the adult Losers makes it difficult to care about the relationships of the characters. However, it’s worth watching to see a new take on a familiar story, as well as a career-highlight performance from Bill Hader.