It Chapter Two
It (2017) became the highest-grossing horror film of all time, with its clever adaptation and split of Stephen King’s 1400 page novel, and nearly $800 million at the world-wide box-office. The 2017 film only took on half of the book, the half focused on the young kids fighting Pennywise the clown. The second half of the book has finally hit our screens taking place with the same characters 27 years later.
It Chapter 2 (2019) sees our group of protagonists 27 years after they first defeated Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). All except Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) have moved away from their town of Derry, practically forgetting their dark past. However, when signs appear that Pennywise is alive and feasting again, Mike calls the gang together, to uphold an oath they made as children: that if IT ever came back, they would come together to stop it. Thus the Losers Gang is brought together from Billy (James McAvoy) who is now a screenwriter, to Richie (Bill Hader) a famed stand-up comedian, and even Beverly (Jessica Chastain) who married a wealthy but abusive spouse.
While “It” is heralded as one of Stephen King’s best books, it nevertheless was famed for having an unsatisfactory ending. Director Andy Muschetti (returning to the director’s chair) seems to have this in mind, and even references it throughout, by having cameos ranging from Peter Bogdanovic to Stephen King himself telling Billy that his endings “suck.” This then sets up a certain modification by the filmmakers involved in this horror entry, so as to try and maintain the scares and heights of the first film. However, the fated boring climactic fight from the book is spun in such a way that it feels more like a superhero film than a deadly showdown with the terrifying Pennywise. It is certainly a better ending on screen for the characters and narrative, and yet it doesn’t fit as comfortable with the dread and calculation of the 2017 film.
As with the 1990 miniseries adaptation of “It,” the adult story falters much more in engaging viewers. While the first half of the story focused on the fears of children and how they must face up to them, the adult half seems more focused in a pursuit for memory and truth, which isn’t nearly as terrifying. For much of the film, the characters are split up so they can each go on a scavenger hunt for a memory of theirs, only to have cheap jump-scares follow them along the way. The resulting feeling is one of a video game, that has the player tasked with going about collecting important tokens before they are allowed to face the Big Boss. After showing two of the characters’ search, an inevitable repetitiveness settled in and made the nearly three-hour runtime all the more noticeable.
There is a desperation to reconnect with the young cast from the 2017 film, which are brought back intermittently through flashbacks. In these scenes from the past we see the chemistry between the young performers that captured so many viewers and made the stakes of Pennywise’s ruses all the higher in the first film. By having the majority of the adult group split for much of the film, we rarely get a chance for the Losers Group to foment the same rapport.
The casting in this sequel could not have been better, however, with not only a striking likeness to their child-actor counterparts, but strong performances throughout as well. One particular stand-out was Bill Hader, who brings the wit and humor that Finn Wolfhard first introduced into the role, but also digs much deeper into the dramatic aspects of Richie, making him the most interesting character in the film. Hader and James Ransone (who plays Eddie) are able to provide a few organic moments of levity that are able to recapture some of the captivation from the 2017 film. For a film about working as a team to defeat evil, it left much of its stars strewn in solitary scenes that made their solid performances flicker into the background.
The great build-up of dread from the first film seems to be sprinkled too scarcely here, the scares weren’t as big, and Pennywise seemed to have a much more diminished role. The result was an overreliance on jump-scares and no lingering feeling of shock after the credits have rolled. It was always going to be tough to adapt this duller aspect of the “It” novel, and certain modifications in It Chapter Two do prove to be more captivating. However, when compared with the 2017 version, that utilized the tropes of defenseless children finding their strength by teaming together, this one pales in comparison and seems very lost as to what it wants its true thematic compass to be.