It is a really tricky beast to adapt. It’s a massive novel that constantly jumps between time periods in such a way that to adapt it exactly as written would prove impossible for any kind of Hollywood film as it would require such an extensive runtime – or such an outrageous amount of cuts to the source material – that it just wouldn’t work. So, on the surface, it might seem like a really good idea to separate the two timelines in the novel into two movies – the first exploring the Losers Club’s childhood battle with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) while the second movie deals with their second battle with him, as adults. The 1990 miniseries mostly took this approach – though certain elements of the adult storyline were mixed with that of the children storyline, the two were mostly kept separate. The 2017 remake of It took it a step farther by presenting audiences with a film that focused entirely on the younger incarnation of these characters. With the wild success of that first movie, its inevitable sequel, It Chapter Two, was left to adapt the adult storyline and wrap the whole story up. Does it accomplish this and is it as good as the first film was? Yes and no. This movie isn’t a great horror film, nor is it a particularly good sequel – but it is a solid and deeply enjoyable movie. (Mild spoilers for It Chapter Two and all other versions of the story follow.)
It Chapter Two (Written by Gary Dauberman, directed by Andy Muschietti)
Evil resurfaces in Derry as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club in a return to where it all began with “IT Chapter Two,” the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time. Twenty-seven years after the Losers Club defeated Pennywise, he has returned to terrorize the town of Derry once more. Now adults, the Losers have long since gone their separate ways. However, kids are disappearing again, so Mike, the only one of the group to remain in their hometown, calls the others home. Damaged by the experiences of their past, they must each conquer their deepest fears to destroy Pennywise once and for all…putting them directly in the path of the clown that has become deadlier than ever.
While, on the whole, I really enjoyed this movie, there are some definite problems with it. Firstly, if you’ve seen the first It film, then you know the basic plot line of this one, too. A group of kids (adults, this time) gather together to stop an ancient evil – Pennywise – from wreaking havoc on their small, Maine town. It Chapter Two sees the Losers Club return to Derry 27 years after defeating Pennywise as children in order to put a stop to his evil once and for all. And, in doing so, we see them go on very similar journeys to the ones they went on in the first film. During those twenty-seven years, most of the Losers – save for Mike (Isaiah Mustafah) – have forgotten their childhoods in Derry, including their friendships with each other and their victory over Pennywise. After Mike learns of a vicious hate crime ending with a Pennywise-caused death, he realizes he has to summon the Losers Club to return to Derry and honor their promise to defeat It, were he to ever rise again. This quickly sets the group on a scavenger hunt as they search for items from their past they can use as sacrifices in a mysterious ritual that can put an end to Pennywise permanently and finally overcome their past trauma.
As a premise for a movie, it’s a pretty solid one. But it’s very reliant on the events of the first It film, probably to a fault. In fact, the biggest problem with taking this approach to the material is the adult storyline just isn’t as interesting as the kids’ storyline. Watching a bunch of grown adults go up against a creepy, extraterrestrial/supernatural clown/monster will always be significantly less scary than watching a bunch of kids go up against It. Separating the storylines opens the door for unfair comparisons and accusations of the adult storyline being too formulaic and repetitive. Of course, this is the point of the adult storyline, but when you’ve separated the storylines into two wholly unique films, it’s a challenge to remember that as the movie hits nearly identical beats to that of the first film. That’s why Stephen King’s original novel chose to intertwine those two storyline together, allowing his readers the chance to explore how this repeating of history reflects the endless cycles of trauma and abuse. Pennywise is the main villain of the novel, sure, but just as important an antagonist is the very idea of trauma and overcoming it. It Chapter Two flirts with this idea, but by being so separated from the storyline of the children, it’s hard for it to really commit to exploring the idea as richly as the novel could.
And the movie recognizes this, too. It Chapter Two knows that the adults’ storyline simply doesn’t work without flashing back to the storyline of the kids – it’s one of the biggest reasons nobody remembers the second half of the miniseries fondly. So, in an attempt to rectify this problem, the film flashes back to new scenes with the younger characters (complete with CGI to de-age the actors who have already outgrown their roles) in specific key moments in order to drive home the idea that all of this is cyclical and to truly overcome It, they must also overcome their pasts. The problem with these new scenes is that, while they take place within the events of the first It film, they’re nowhere near as interesting as anything in that movie. They literally feel like the kind of deleted scenes you’d see on a DVD and go “Well, I see why that was deleted.” It’s as if Muschietti and Dauberman intended to just use footage from the first film but then decided that audiences would probably get annoyed if sizeable chunks of this new movie they’d paid $10-$20 to see were just excerpts from a previous movie they’d already paid to see. And, to be fair, I understand that dilemma. You can’t really do the storyline any kind of justice without including the kids but you can’t just use chunks of footage from the first film, so you have to find some kind of compromise. In that regard, these new scenes aren’t bad. It’s nice seeing the younger actors interact again and some of the scares are solid, even if they’re just lesser versions of scares we’ve already seen. I can’t help but long for a version of the film where these new scenes are simply cut and replaced with the first film actually being intercut into the action of this new one, in the style of the novel itself. Perhaps a future Blu-ray might do this.
Outside of comparisons to the book and complaints about the very nature of this story being dependant on being told simultaneously alongside the story of the first film, how good or bad is this movie? It’s pretty solid. It’s not particularly scary, though I didn’t really feel like the first one was either – this one is even less scary than that one; outside of a handful of pretty horrifying images, there’s not much nightmare-fuel here. The pacing is definitely problematic – there’s a lot of plot to cram into these three hours, and yet it often feels like nothing much is happening. The scenes you wish the film would spend more time on go by far too quickly while you wish the scenes the film would speed through go on forever. Too much time is spent on the Adult Losers looking for those artifacts from their past (and experiencing those lame flashbacks) while not enough time is spent on how their childhood trauma impacts their adult lives; these ideas are flirted with but never fully explored and it’s a shame. This boils back down to the idea of the adults’ storyline acting more as a framing device for the whole combined story of their various battles with Pennywise than as a story in its own right, but I digress. I don’t necessarily mind films that are long, but when the movie feels long, it can be a bit frustrating.
Pennywise, himself, is less interesting and less scary here and the whole film lacks any real sense of tension. While Bill Skarsgård is still very good in the role, he’s given a lot less to do. He’s on screen for maybe 25% of the movie and most of his scenes are just too reminiscent of scenes from the first film to have any real impact anymore. Couple that with the film spending a lot of time explaining his origins – though never really committing to just how insane his origins are or referencing the space turtle God found in the book. Explaining Pennywise’s origin is a mistake in the book and it’s a mistake in the movie too. Nobody wants to know what Pennywise is or where he comes from because it immediately makes him less scary. The book gets away with it because it withholds a lot of that information for most of the story, but the movie reveals it pretty early on and the character suffers for it. Additionally, the movie reduces the screen time of grown-up bully, Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) and totally cuts all the scenes featuring Bill’s wife, Audra (Jess Weixler), and Bev’s husband, Tom (Will Beinbrink), outside of brief scenes at the beginning of the film. I understand that doing this was necessary in order to streamline the plot of the film – most notably, its climax – into something a bit more driven by our main characters, but it does rob the story of some much-needed tension from forces outside of the threat posed by Pennywise. And in a movie that feels so tensionless, it might have been better to include them somehow.
On the bright side, there is a lot to like about It Chapter Two. Similar to the first film, It Chapter Two succeeds largely due to some stellar casting. All of the adult incarnations of the Losers Club are really strong. The weakest are probably James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Jay Ryan, but that’s mainly because they’re given the least to do/have the least interesting arcs. All of them do solid jobs with their roles and definitely feel believable as grown-up versions of Bill, Bev, and Ben. Isaiah Mustafah does a really good job as Mike. While I still wish the character had been given more to do, Mustafah’s able to bring some complexity to the character that was sorely missing in the first movie and it’s really nice getting to see Mike actually have something to do in this movie – however little it might be. But the real standouts are James Ransone as Eddie and Bill Hader as Richie. The two of them bring such heart to the film and they fully ground all of the action around their dynamic. Bill Hader absolutely steals every scene he’s in and he is such perfect casting for a grown-up Richie. The same is true for Ransone as he even looks nearly-identical to a grown-up Jack Dylan Grazer. Every scene with the two of them is a scene that is delightful to behold. Visually, there’s a lot to like, too. Muschetti has always been good at establishing the atmosphere of Derry – it never feels like a very pleasant place to live and it feels even less pleasant in this film as the streets are literally barren for chunks of the movie. Many of the “scares” aren’t very scary, but they are really interesting from a visual stand-point. It’s impressive to see how some of this stuff was imagined and pulled off and it’s clear that there were some pretty strong creative minds on this crew.
All in all, It Chapter Two isn’t a bad movie. In fact, even with its problems, it’s a pretty enjoyable one. It’s too long, too repetitive when separated from the storyline of the first film as much as it is, and not remotely scary. But it’s also really funny, very atmospheric, lots of fun, and filled with solid acting and interesting imagery. There’s a reason that King’s novel has been as popular as it has been for all of these years and this film definitely taps into that a bit. Pennywise is a cool villain to explore, even if we learn too much about his and he loses a lot of his fear factor. The Losers Club remain extremely relatable as adults, even if their storylines don’t quite work as well as they should when separated so much from the storylines of their younger counterparts. As a horror movie, it’s disappointing – it’s not scary and the monster doesn’t do enough. But as a hybrid of an adventure film and a drama about overcoming trauma, it’s pretty solid. It’s definitely a lot of fun and very cathartic to watch these characters overcome such harsh trials and find some way to triumph. While it would have been nice to explore a bit more in depth the trauma the adults still dealt with, it was nice seeing it addressed at all. Overall, it’s a movie I honestly enjoyed. It has a lot of structural issues, but they don’t detract from the film too much while you’re actually watching it. I went into the movie expecting this to be the case, so I wasn’t surprised or particularly let down when it proved to be true. At the end of the day, I love this world and I love these characters and it was nice getting to see this story brought to an end. I’m still holding out hope for some kind of supercut that edits the two movies together into something more reminiscent of the book. But until then, if you liked the first It film, then this is a must see. It’s not as good as that movie, but it’s still pretty dang enjoyable.
3.5 out of 5 wands.