Directed By: Andy Muschietti
Release Date: September 6, 2019
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgard
27 years have gone by since The Losers conquered their fears and defeated It in the sewers underneath Derry, Maine. Their adult lives have taken them away from Derry, their memories - good and bad - of their hometown having faded the further away they've gotten. Bill (James McAvoy) has become a well-known novelist. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) has established a career in fashion design. Richie (Bill Hader) has shaped his wicked sense of humor into a successful stand-up career.
Almost all the Losers have moved on except Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), who has remained vigilant about It's inevitable return and the promise he and his friends made long ago to return to Derry and put an end to the evil once and for all. And after the death and disappearance of a young man (Xavier Dolan) following a brutal beating delivered by a homophobic gang, Mike has no choice but to call his friends and reunite them when the truth is inescapable: It is back.
It feels like just yesterday that the first It arrived to wide acclaim, and yet two years have flown by since its release. The dust has settled on the initial wow factor of the film, which floated right into the pop culture stratosphere, and, fortunately, Chapter One still holds up. As I covered in my review of the film back in 2017, It isn't completely perfect, but it did so much right - with a clear passion at its core from everyone involved - that it's easy to forgive its faults in the face of all its great strengths.
In comparison, It: Chapter Two is mostly more of the same. All of my complaints about the first film pretty much return here, whether it's the occasional use of weak CGI - particularly notable in undermining a pivotal moment near the end of the film for being comically distracting - or the absolute short-changing of characters like Mike and Ben (Jay Ryan). Mike, for instance, often felt like a non-entity in the first film, and despite playing a pivotal role here in bringing everyone back together, he still feels like a sidelined player with little characterization beyond being responsible for dropping exposition.
In my previous review, I also touched upon the baffling decision to kill off Henry Bowers, who - as it turns out - miraculously survived his perilous plunge in 1989 unscathed. 27 years on, portrayed by Nicholas Hamilton, he's been locked up in an insane asylum for the murder of his father, and escapes to finish what he started in killing the Losers when It comes to help set him free. It's a great setup, as it was in the book, which is why I was surprised to see him seemingly die two years ago, but ultimately Bowers' miraculous, borderline retconned presence in the movie amounts to nothing. There's little, if any, consequence to his actions despite a great scene with Eddie (James Ransone), the humorous "return" of the late Patrick Hockstetter, and a solid Richie one-liner, and he could've easily been cut from the movie without losing a single thing.
This sticks out to me so much because, wisely, the film trimmed a number of the other notable subplots from the book for the sake of time. Larger supporting characters from the novel like Bill's wife Audra (Jess Weixler) or Bev's abusive husband Tom Rogan (Will Beinbrink) are reduced to single scene appearances here, which is fine, but at odds with the fact a character like Bowers ends up eating screen time. Chapter Two isn't a short film by any means, clocking in at nearly two hours and forty minutes, and every second counts; when Bowers' part in the story amounts to nothing, perhaps it would've been best to leave him dead at the bottom of the well so that underutilized characters (like Mike) could've been given more to do.
As a result, that awkward bloat feels tacked on just for the sake of packing in more tension, which only serves to expose just how repetitively structured the second act narrative is as well. After lengthy reintroductions to all of the characters as adults, Mike gathers them all only to split everyone up again to gather personal totems from their past to sacrifice as part of an ancient ritual to defeat It. Each character goes off on their own, and the beats are almost identical for each one: The adult version returns to where their artifact is, they have a flashback to their childhood that ends with It terrorizing them, and then they're terrorized by It in the present.
It ends up being predictably mechanical by the third or fourth time it unfolds - "Okay, now here is where It is going to show up" - which sucks the momentum out of the whole thing even if many of the scenes on their own are great. By the time the gang gets together to confront It in the final act, the film's already been going for well over two hours, and while I personally enjoyed the company of most of these characters, I would've appreciated more scenes of the group rebonding with one another than off on their own solo adventures if they're all just going to play out identically one after the next.
That all said, even when the narrative starts to sag, it's bolstered by its performances. Mustafa and Ryan often feel regrettably wasted, just like their characters, but everyone else really gets the chance to shine throughout, particularly Hader and Ransone. The two of them are head and shoulders above an already solid cast, and the fact that we spend a lot of time again with the child cast highlights the duo's great effort to feel like genuine extensions of the work done by their younger counterparts, Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer. Though every character provides something different to the emotional center of the film, like Bill's everlasting grief and guilt over his brother's death, it's Richie and Eddie that provide the film with its true beating heart, and the two actors come out of the other end of the film as real highlights.
And then, of course, there's the eponymous creature itself, played in Pennywise form by Bill Skarsgard. Skarsgard's work remains as stellar - if not more so - as it was two years ago. There's nothing I can say about his performance that I haven't already said before, but the sheer presence of evil he carries with him on screen is so deliciously infectious that I wish we could've gotten more.
Like the first film, even when It isn't directly on screen, It's everywhere anyway, the creature's malice permeating every second of the film, such as the haunting opening sequence whose underlying horror is merely punctuated by It's appearance. And when It is on screen, the film really fires on all cylinders. A scene where Pennywise lures a young girl under a bleacher is fantastic, as is a scene set in a funhouse where Pennywise attempts to rob Bill of all hope about saving a local boy who lives in his old home. Even beyond that, sequences involving a dinner at a Chinese restaurant, a trip to Bev's old home, and a giant Paul Bunyan statue all stick out as great moments where It really drives home how much fun it has tormenting the poor souls it wants revenge against.
Equal parts scary and funny, Chapter Two serves as a great, if imperfect, companion piece to its predecessor. As an adaptation, both films are respectful to the source - even Stephen King himself gets a fun cameo here - despite a few missteps along the way. A lot of the heady, cosmic elements from the book, like Maturin the turtle and the weirdness of the Macroverse, are either teased or ignored completely, unfortunate for fans of the book who may have hoped the film went full bore with the larger ideas at play but understandable in their absence for the sake of making this story more palatable for wider audiences.
If you loved Chapter One, you'll undoubtedly enjoy Chapter Two. If Chapter One's faults were too much to handle, you'll likely find that Chapter Two doesn't radically change the game, as the two films really go hand in hand in terms of their similar strengths and weaknesses (to the point I'm holding back on this review to avoid reiterating much of what I wrote two years ago). For me, this Herculean - and successful - effort to capture the spirit of the book is what I appreciate most; even with changes I found myself disappointed by, such as the aforementioned waste of Henry Bowers, there were more made for the better, like having Mike present when the group and It have their final confrontation, something that doesn't occur in the book.
Muschietti and his team across both films have something to really be proud of with what they've accomplished. They've set a bar that modern King adaptations - like this year's serviceable but needless Pet Sematary - will have to strive to meet if they seek to stand out or risk falling face first into the dirt like The Dark Tower. Even among all the King stories that have made the jump to the big screen over the decades, this two-part event turned out to be one of the best and most consistently enjoyable, and I'm grateful we have it, warts and all.
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