At 135 minutes, It: Chapter One covers only the childhood half of Stephen King’s magnum opus, saving the adult portion for the sequel, set twenty-seven years later. The decision to split the movie in two was a wise move on the part of the studio, as it gave the filmmakers more time to flesh out both the story and the large cast of characters. But with a nearly three-hour run time, It: Chapter Two is a full thirty-five minutes longer than Chapter One, begging the question: how much time did the filmmakers really need?
I hate to start on a negative note, but at a bloated 170 minutes, the length of Chapter Two becomes a major stumbling block that must be addressed. Where director Andy Muschietti’s vision for the first movie perfectly recaptures the novel’s supernatural terror and childhood bonding, It: Chapter Two moves fast — maybe too fast — and yet, it never quite captures the weight of its nearly three-hour runtime. You’d figure that an additional thirty-five minutes would give the storytellers more time to flesh out the characters, the relationships, the backstory, and the supernatural entity at the center of Derry, but instead, the film feels frustratingly thin — and, dare I say, self-indulgent. The final result is a mixed bag in which your patience is tested, your attention brought to bear, and your precious time demanded.
Still, there’s also a lot to love here.
The problem with flashbacks…
The narrative of It: Chapter Two is pretty-straightforward, and anyone who’s seen the first film, watched the original TV series, and/or has read the book knows what to expect. Minus a few key sequences, such as the controversial sewer orgy, Gary Dauberman’s script is mostly faithful to the heart of King’s story. When Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) returns to picturesque Derry, the seven (well, really six) people who defeated him in 1989 must return to their hometown to defeat the horrible creature and bring his reign of terror, once and for all, to an end.
As the group reunites in Maine, the proceedings are padded by extended flashbacks as the now-adult members of the Losers Club struggle to rebuild the bonds they forged as children, as all but one (Mike) experiences temporary memory loss. It turns out that moving away from Maine has somehow made their memories foggy, and now it’s up to Mike to find a way to make them remember those horrific clown-related encounters that have vanished from their consciousness.
The film’s focus on these flashbacks sometimes works to its advantage, and sometimes to its detriment. The upside is that these dream sequences allow the charismatic and talented young actors who previously played the characters to return in It: Chapter Two, and as with the first film, some of the best parts of It: Chapter Two have nothing to do with the cackling manifestations of the murderous Pennywise, but rather with the camaraderie, bickering, and curiosity among these kids. The teenagers get a fair amount of screen time here, reminding us of the sparkling chemistry of the lively young cast. Unfortunately, the downside is that these endless flashbacks are the biggest culprit in stretching out the film’s running time; if you cut them out entirely, we would most likely be left with a two-hour movie.
When we bury our feelings, we bury who we are…
Where, It: Chapter One uses the fight against Pennywise as a metaphor for the characters facing their deepest fears as they enter adulthood, Chapter Two tackles themes of memory and childhood trauma, exploring the loss of innocence decades after our heroes faced off against the creepy, dancing clown with outsize yellow teeth, a high-pitched squeak of a voice, and a habit of eating kids. And like Chapter One, Chapter Two deals with grief, insecurities, trauma, and guilt. These characters may be older, but they continue to be haunted by their own personal demons, and they have ways to go before they can ever heal.
James McAvoy plays Bill Denbrough, now a best-selling mystery novelist who married a movie star (Jess Weixler), but is still not over the death of his little brother, Georgie. Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is a successful fashion designer trapped in an abusive marriage. Jay Ryan is the once-bullied, overweight Ben, who’s currently an architect and looks hotter than “a team of Brazilian soccer players,” but never quite got over his childhood crush, and still carries around Beverly’s signature from a page in his yearbook. James Ransone is the hypochondriac Eddie, who grew up to be a terrifyingly high-strung adult. Bill Hader is the foul-mouthed smart-aleck Richie Tozier, a now-famous standup comedian who doesn’t write his own material. Andy Bean stars as Stanley, still the weakest of the bunch and still trying to get his life in order, and last but not least, Isaiah Mustafa stars as Mike Hanlon, the only member of the Losers Club who remained in Derry. He’s the town librarian, and the only one who clearly remembers Pennywise. They’ve grown into restless adults, each of them scarred by the events of their past, and now the seven (really six) must search out and destroy It. And the only way they can defeat the clown is if they work together.
James McAvoy’s Bill might be the story’s beating heart, but Chapter Two really belongs to Ritchie. Hader’s spin on Richie is easily the film’s standout, since no other actor better matches their younger counterpart than him. He pretty much nails every line of dialogue, and the subtle subplot about his secret desires carries more emotional weight than expected. Meanwhile, Mustafa (best known as the Old Spice guy) has an impressive breakout as Mike, while Teach Grant’s offbeat turn as Henry Bowers (an escapee from a psychiatric ward) brings equal scares and laughs. The rest of the cast is fine, although the adult group doesn’t demonstrate the same level chemistry as their younger selves, as we’re reminded by the narrative lift we feel each time we are shown a flashback.
Here comes the horror…
Regardless of how you feel about the near-three-hour running time, the good news is that It: Chapter Two packs enough suspense and genuine scares to satisfy even the biggest horror hounds. It really is at times terrifying, and features three if not four scenes that are as good as the astonishing visual centerpiece of the first film. For a movie classified as ‘horror,’ It: Chapter Two features some thrilling setpieces punctuated by each of the character’s deepest and darkest fears, including a claustrophobic encounter in a mirrored funhouse, an even more catastrophic sequence that jumps between a shocking hallucination that sees Jessica Chastain drenched in more blood than Johnny Depp in A Nightmare On Elm Street, and a scene in which Jay Ryan sinks deep into the earth.
Another highlight comes when Chastain’s Beverly visits her childhood home looking to reunite with her father, only to be greeted by an elderly woman named Mrs. Kersh (Joan Gregson) who insists she come in for tea. As Beverly awkwardly tries to stir up a conversation, Mrs. Kersh becomes momentarily paralyzed. The expression on her face here is far more frightening than what comes next. Meanwhile, a reunion at an Asian restaurant is one of the movie’s best scenes, showcasing Hader’s comedic flair and introducing the first of many digitally enhanced effects used to realize Pennywise’s grotesque transformations, including a later nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s here that the grown-up Losers are quickly reminded of the terrifying shape-shifting abilities of Pennywise the clown. It’s stuff like this that makes It: Chapter Two well worth seeing.
Make no mistake, Chapter Two does earn its R rating, and like the first film, the greatest asset is still Bill Skarsgård as the sadistic, child-chomping, demonic clown. There really is something special about watching him twitch, crawl, shriek, and work his way into the minds of the children of Derry. Amidst the movie’s many monstrosities, the shapeshifter is by far the most menacing, best exemplified in one single shot where he appears out of disguise as a man simply covering his face in clown paint. It’s all good stuff thanks to the first-rate special effects, gross-out visuals, and Checco Varese’s gorgeous and dreamy cinematography, which conveys a sense of danger even in the bright daylight.
About that cold opening…
The first horror we witness in this second installment, however, is oddly the most terrifying — and also the most troublesome µ scene of Chapter Two. The scene in question details a grotesque act of homophobic violence against a gay couple (played by Taylor Frey and Canadian director Xavier Dolan) that transitions to the first appearance of the now-iconic red balloon and the words “Come Home” scrawled in blood under the bridge before Pennywise himself appears. What this has to do with the main story is unclear, except to maybe serve as a reminder that Pennywise isn’t the only monster residing in Derry. But while the hate crime is true to the book and based on the real-life 1984 drowning of Charlie Howard, the scene is confusing in this context, and feels tonally out of place with the rest of the film, as the filmmakers never bother to revisit neither the scene nor the characters to give it any sort of closure.
But it’s not just the cold opening that feels disjointed and tonally out of place — the ending does as well. 170 minutes is plenty of time to build to a satisfying climax, but It: Chapter Two concludes the nearly six-hour, two-movie saga without much in the way of surprises. Worse is that screenwriter Gary Dauberman beats you over the head with meta-joke after meta-joke about how Stephen King never quite knows how to nail an ending, and in case you missed it, King even pops up just to reinforce this fact, which only further reinforces just how disappointing the climax really is.
The film needs a better ending…
For better or for worse, It stands out as one of the rare films that have attempted to remain as true as possible to the source material. However, I can’t help but think Andy Muschietti had a chance to trim some fat, not feel the need to resolve every subplot, nor cram in another anti-climactic, big-budget action-movie spectacle which not only sucks the life and imagination out of the film, but isn’t the slightest bit scary. There’s a lot to like here, as It: Chapter Two oozes with spectacular scenery, stupefying effects, an epic score, and plenty of nerve-jangling scenes that will have viewers shrieking, but Chapter Two is also painfully long, and could use a better ending. In between the odd prologue and the disappointing climax is roughly two hours of well-crafted filmmaking and fifty minutes of excess.
- Ricky D