In 2017, who would have guessed that the adaptation of the iconic “IT” would breathe new life into the horror genre and stir up the bloodlust and adoration of its viewers? As the credits rolled in theaters everywhere, audiences were already excited for the sequel that was surely coming. Well, “IT Chapter Two” has arrived, to all the excitement and expectations one could bestow on a highly-anticipated sequel. So how did it do?
We return to Derry 27 years after the Losers Club’s first terrifying encounter with Pennywise the Clown. They’ve all grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call and the return of Pennywise bring them all home.
“IT Chapter Two” is directed by Andy Muschietti (“Mama”). Bill Skarsgard returns as Pennywise, and we are introduced to the Losers Club, All Grown Up Edition. “IT Chapter 2” stars Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh, James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough, Bill Hader as Richie Tozier, Isaiah Mustafa as Mike Hanlon, Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom, James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris. Additionally, the stellar youth cast from the first film returns with Sophia Lillis, Jaedan Martell, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff. We’re even treated to a cameo by “IT” author (and goddamn icon) Stephen King.
To discuss “IT Chapter Two” requires the acceptance that “IT” is something so much bigger. It’s part of one of literature’s most complicated multiverses. It commands a complicated and convoluted mythos. It leaves more questions than answers. It’s a hefty book that got stretched into a miniseries, and it’s now getting the Hollywood treatment. And that all rests on the foundation of “IT” being a cornerstone of culture and the Stephen King centerpiece, among his fans.
The first film found success in capturing the nostalgia and the spirit of “IT,” latching onto the experience of those kids (now adult movie enthusiasts) that were delighted and terrified by the original miniseries. The sequel has the much more ambitious task of wrapping things up neatly and attempting to capture the full scope of “IT.”
Here’s the thing about “IT Chapter Two.” It’s fine. Just fine. And that’s the problem.
The film does precious little to repeat what worked in its predecessor and, regrettably, we lose so much of what made the first film good. Its extended runtime is not used to great effect and the episodic nature of the format (essentially separating the experiences of the Losers Club into a series of short films) made the viewing experience of “IT Chapter Two” feel like a slog. It’s both frustratingly formulaic and predictable without feeling cohesive.
Recall that “IT Chapter Two” carries the burden of wrapping things up. This is another area where the film falls short. Quite simply, there is too much mythology and history and significance to effectively explain and tell during a single film. This critic understands that this may be the essential problem of any “IT” adaptation, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more effective to begin introducing audiences to the lore in the first film. One has to imagine that die-hard King fans were left wanting and casual fans or first-timers left seriously confused. It’s a failing in storytelling and a real shame, though the film does inject its fair share of references and Easter eggs.
That being said, there are some things that “IT Chapter Two” does really well. Chiefly, they keep that incredible childlike nostalgia. Portrayals of childhood are charming by default, and an essential element of the “IT” story is childhood. Childhood experienced, childhood lost, overcoming childhood trauma and fears, and being able to go back to the experiences of childhood to inform the adults we become.
“IT Chapter Two” does an excellent job in matching the young Losers Club with their adult counterparts, providing the audience with a very clear picture of how these characters were shaped and how they have grown. There is a particular sequence of Bill (played by James McAvoy) finding his old bike in a thrift shop and riding through the streets of his old neighborhood and, in many ways, it feels like the thesis of the entire film. Bill Hader’s Richie brings a similar, but more tragic, energy to the story (and Hader brings great energy to the entire film).
However, the whole cast, as stacked as it was, was a hit-or-miss element in the overall product. McAvoy, Hader and Ransone were the clear powerhouse players in the film, bringing a greater depth and humor to their roles. Regrettably, Jessica Chastain failed to bring the same fire to the character of Beverly as her young counterpart. In many ways, Chastain seemed to sleepwalk through her scenes. One may argue that this was part of the dreamlike, traumatic impact of the events but the result, regardless, was a weak joint in the overall structure of the ensemble.
It would be easy to chalk the flaws of “IT Chapter Two” to being overambitious and falling short of its duty to the story, but that would not be wholly true. The greatest sin of “IT Chapter Two” is that it failed one of culture’s greatest villains.
Think Pennywise, for a moment. I bet you conjured up the iconic sewer scene and the horrifying visage of a clown peering up out of the darkness. The absolute triumph of the 2017 “IT” was Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the Clown. He was otherworldly, he was charming in that disconcerting way, and he was goddamn scary. After screening “IT Chapter Two,” this critic revisited the 2017 film to see if I could put words to the feeling I was missing. Here’s the thing… “IT Chapter Two” lost out on what makes Pennywise so scary.
In the first film, we get tons of great moments of Pennywise quietly stalking in the background. Pennywise is a huge presence and often engages with the kids of the Losers Club, one-by-one, and up close and personal. The sewer scene is the centerpiece of a film populated by these great, creepy moments. It’s… it’s just Pennywise.
In “IT Chapter Two,” we get one scene of the Pennywise we know. One scene where he dons that eerie clown persona to lure prey, where we see how sinister he is and get to experience Pennywise as the ultimate predator. Guess what? It’s the best scene of the movie and the focal point of the trailers. Because it’s what we want out of Pennywise. Instead, what we get is a lot of focus on the shape-shifting element, and it feels like we’re getting cheated out of the star in favor of a showcase of the effects department —which is utterly criminal when you have such a great villain design and a talent like Skarsgard bringing it to life.
My verdict on “IT Chapter Two” is that it’s… meh. It’s fine. It’s even fun, at times. But it falls so short on its potential and really loses touch with the heart and soul of its villain. Honestly, it’s a film that one could skip in the theaters and wait for the opportunity to double feature at home with the (far superior) first film.
“IT Chapter 2” is in theaters now! How did it compare to the first film? Let us know in the comments.
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Featured photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.