I am of two minds about IT: Chapter Two. There are aspects of the film I really enjoyed, but also a lot more elements I found problematical.
The opening scene involving the gay-bashing of Adrian Mellon (and Pennywise’s eventual noshing on him) marks a harrowing return to Derry’s unfriendly confines. The violence on display is vicious and unsettling, and bears an immediacy lacking from the corresponding scene in Stephen King’s novel (which is presented via a series of ex post facto statements to the police by the perpetrating punks). Director Andy Muschietti makes a wise choice starting with this hate crime, which inaugurates Pennywise’s next cycle of predation. In this scene, we get a glimpse of the evil influence that has permeated Derry; the problem is that Muschietti fails to sustain this idea. The town’s haunted state is largely absent from the rest of the film, as the streets and edifices of Derry are reduced to mere backdrops and the townspeople to virtual spear-carriers in the ongoing battles between Pennywise and the Losers Club.
The monsters mashing their way through the film (as Pennywise dons his various terrorizing disguises) are undeniably top-notch. Particularly memorable (by which I mean: scarringly nightmarish) here are the witchy Mrs. Kersh (the most unnerving nude in a King adaptation since the woman in Room 217 in The Shining) and the animate, bat-spewing statue of Paul Bunyan. The film boasts a menagerie of impressive antagonists; this is one area where the follow-up manages to surpass IT: Chapter One (which I reviewed here).
I don’t think it’s a terrible spoiler to write that Stephen King has a cameo in the film. Readers of this post who have yet to venture out to their local cineplex will be happy to learn that this is arguably King’s best cameo work to date. Muschietti, though, typically pushes matters too far by including a second cameo by a Hollywood luminary (seemingly playing himself), whose appearance here is completely out of left field and serves to jar the viewer out of the onscreen world.
Time is not on the side of It: Chapter Two; a generation has passed and the members of the Losers Club have all grown up. It’s simply not as easy to root for–and fear for–the adult versions of these characters. Personality traits that proved endearing in the young can seem tiresome in the post-pubescent. I found James Ransone’s adult Eddie especially grating, and thus had a hard time investing in his character arc. James McAvoy as adult Bill is miscast and unconvincing–he lacks stature (he’s dwarfed by most of the other Losers) and the commanding presence that led the others to look up to him as the group’s leader in King’s novel. Jessica Chastain gives a solid performance as the adult Beverly, but her character is bogged down by the burgeoning romance with the hunky yet utterly uninteresting Ben (Jay Ryan). Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) is a muddled mess; rather than forming the conscience of the group, he comes across more as a borderline madman verging on a heel turn. Just as Finn Wolfhard stole the first film as young Ritchie, Bill Hader stands out as the adult counterpart. A professional stand-up comedian, Hader’s Ritchie’s delivers laugh-out-loud-funny lines throughout (almost too many of them, threatening to compromise the tonality of the film). The much-ado about Ritchie’s personal secret, though, was somewhat off-putting. This aspect of his character was nowhere present in the source text, the alteration made here seemingly just to be different.
The film hardly floats through its bloated 170-minute runtime. A significant part of the drag no doubt stems from the insistence on re-establishing the juvenile ensemble from the preceding chapter. As the adult Losers are sent off on a silly treasure quest, viewers are subjected to a series of flashbacks to the troublesome summer twenty-something years earlier. But these scenes of further dreadful encounter with Pennywise strike a vague note of anachronism. I found myself asking: why didn’t any of this come up before (at least as a point of discussion between the young Losers)? Muschietti might have benefited from adopting a more self-contained approach here, minimizing the recurrences to the characters’ childhood.
Bill Skarsgard reprises his role as the coulrophobia-inducer extraordinaire Pennywise, and once again entertains with a combination of bloody malice and maniacal wit. Thankfully, though, Pennywise doesn’t only reach down into the same old bag of tricks. There are new nuances to the character, such as when the clown lures Its prey by feigning loneliness and painting himself the victim of ostracism. It’s in these quieter moments that It terrifies the most, not when the Dancing Clown launches into hyperkinetic attack mode. Perhaps my favorite part of the movie is when Pennywise sulkingly insists that It is an “eater of worlds” even as It is bested by the Losers.
That being said, the film’s climax frustrated me on a couple of fronts. First, the Ritual of Chud from King’s novel is grossly mishandled, turned hackneyed (a mystical routine learned from some token Native Americans conveniently living right outside the Derry town line). Also, while certainly not lacking for action, the climax is just too protracted. Amidst the epic battle, the Losers are split up individually, with each member having to deal with personal demons and negotiate a dark funhouse scene. Pennywise is juggling a lot of balls here, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the clown managed to pull off all these frightful mind-games simultaneously.
A running (and not particularly funny) gag throughout the film is that the horror novelist Bill sucks at scripting endings to his books. I’m almost tempted to think that the screenwriters were anticipating the audience’s own negative response to the film, whose denouement isn’t very moving. The voiceover reading of a missing Loser’s missive felt terribly contrived, and the quintessence of schmaltz. It had me pining for a scene of Bill and catatonic wife Audra on a bike ride through the beleaguered streets of Derry.
For all its prodigious length, It: Chapter Two paradoxically falls short. The film lacks scope: there are plenty of tentacles whipping around, but the sense of It as a Lovecraftian horror from beyond space is sadly absent. I don’t doubt that the film will benefit from a second viewing in the comforts of home–when I’m not physically assaulted by AMC Theatres’ thunderous sound system, and when I can rewind and rewatch key scenes with attention to the details that might have slipped by amidst all the chaotic goings-on. Still, I don’t think I will ever consider the sequel the equal of its precursor. It: Chapter Two bursts its own balloon with over-inflation; its impressive parts end up being too much of a good thing, yet nonetheless outnumbered by the film’s creative missteps.