Released: September 2019
Director: Andy Muschietti
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
Budget: $60 to 79 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean, and Bill Skarsgård
Twenty-seven years after facing and defeating Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Skarsgård), the Losers’ Club are called back to Derry to face the terror of It once again but, in order to overcome their greatest fears, they must first remember their past and rekindle their friendship.
It: Chapter Two is, obviously the sequel (or second part) to the hugely-successful It (Muschietti, 2017), which retroactively retitled itself It: Chapter One just before the credits rolled. Given the length and structure of Stephen King’s original 1986 novel, it only made sense to split the story into two parts (which was all-but-inevitable when Chapter One raked in over $700 million against a $35 million budget), and everyone involved has clearly gone to great lengths to secure some big and talented names to help bolster Chapter Two even further.
Chapter Two picks up twenty-seven years after the conclusion of Chapter One; a grown-up Mike Hanlon (Mustafa), who has stayed in Derry the entire time and become somewhat obsessed with watching for signs of Pennywise and haunted by his memories of the first movie, is forced to call his old friends up when It awakens and begins not only abducting, dismembering, and eating children but also calls out to the Losers to settle their score.
Unfortunately for Mike, the Losers are all grown-up, successful adults with no memories of Derry, Pennywise, or their friendship; Bill (McAvoy) is a successful writer who overcame his stutter in favour of struggling with writing good endings to his books, Beverley (Chastain) has become a successful fashion designer who is trapped in an abusive marriage, Ben (Ryan) is now a fit and healthy architect, Eddie (Ransone) works as a risk assessor, has traded a fat mother for a fat wife, and fell back into his dependence on medicines and his inhaler, Richie (Hader) has become a stand-up comedian, and Stan (Bean)…well, it’s not said in the film what he does, but he’s grown up too. However, Mike’s phone call is enough to reignite the Loser’s memories (for better and worse) and compel them to return to Derry in record time to get caught up and piece together their memories, and their friendship, to perform an ancient ritual that Mike believes will destroy Pennywise once and for all.
As I may have mentioned in my review of Chapter One, It is, unquestionably, my favourite novel of all time; King builds his characters so well that I can’t help but feel for each of them and, as I have grown older, my connection to the themes of It (friendship, childhood, adulthood) has only grown stronger. While I enjoyed Stephen King’s It (Wallace, 199) and Tim Curry’s rampant portrayal of Pennywise, I always felt like It needed another shake of the stick, one free form the restrictions of a made-for-television miniseries. While Chapter One altered some elements of King’s novel (changing the time period, adding new scares, altering some of the motivations and so forth), I didn’t really mind this and the movie didn’t disappoint in showcasing how malevolent and psychotic Pennywise can be.
Chapter Two, however, faces the same problem as the 1990 miniseries (and one also present in the book) in that it must now live and die on the strength of the adult version of the Loser’s Club. Given that Chapter One pulled a lot of its presentation and inspiration from Stranger Things (Various, 2016 to present) and the fact that the kids were so good in their roles, this is a tall order but the cast of Chapter Two largely fulfils this by bringing in some great talent for the adult roles.
Hader and Ransone especially stand out; their foul-mouthed banter and close friendship adds a lot of heart and levity to the film, while McAvoy and Chastain bring the emotional weight and acting nuance. Mustafa portrays Mike far from the wise mentor figure he assumed in the 1990 miniseries and instead pulls more from the fatigued, terrified obsession that Mike struggles with in the book. Unfortunately, there once again isn’t too much for Ben or Stan to do this time around; Ryan is serviceable in the role but, where child-Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) assumed Mike’s role of historian and exposition in Chapter One, adult-Ben is mainly there as a mediator and to rediscover his love for Beverley. Once again, Skarsgård steals the show as Pennywise; unlike Curry’s madcap performance, Skarsgård is a creepy, legitimately terrifying force who loves to mess with Its prey before It feeds. Chapter Two feeds (pun intended) Pennywise a far greater body count as he chomps down on adults and children alike, literally biting the heads of Its prey in a shockingly gruesome display. Skarsgård also gets a one-up on Curry in that the finale thankfully does not lose his visage or presence, allowing the final confrontation between Pennywise and the Losers to be far more entertaining while still staying true to the source material.
Despite upping the gore and creepy visuals, the bulk of Chapter Two’s scares again rely on jump scares, which is fine as they’re generally well done and Pennywise is a very charismatic presence, but the film does struggle with its pacing at bit. For example, Mike rings the Losers and they all arrive literally moments later with little issue. This does happen in the book and the miniseries but it stuck out to me as a little rushed as the film then slows down a bit so we can get truncated snippets of their lives. A couple of examples of this are Bev making very short work of her husband when he attacks her, with little to none of the catharsis given in the book to this moment, and Ben summing up his weight loss in one line, which is very disappointing considering how hard John Ritter fought to include an abridged version of Ben’s weight-loss story in the miniseries. However, I think some of these pacing issues will be absolved if you watch both parts back-to-back as one big movie (or, even better, they release a supercut version), that way you won’t lose any momentum as you’ll be familiar with all the characters. Also, when the film includes the original child actors, it makes the wise decision to include new scenes, storylines, and scares that pull more material from the book so it never really feels like its treading over the same ground or telling us things we already know.
Fundamentally, Chapter Two follows many of the same beats as the book and the miniseries but there are some interesting wrinkles; one of the biggest is the idea that Richie is actually in love with Eddie and has been harbouring an unspoken homosexual love for him this entire time, which I never even thought of or picked up on when I read the book. Another is Mike managing to escape the attack by the aged Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) with only a flesh wound, allowing him to not only participate in the final battle but finish up his character arc when his desperate belief in the Ritual of Chüd faisl to destroy Pennywise and Mike is revealed to be severely traumatised by his childhood nightmare. A big spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read the book is that Stan never makes it back to Derry, opting to slit his wrists instead. In the book and miniseries, he leaves a chilling message scrawled on his bathroom tiles (simply the word “It”), which is a genuinely spine-tingling moment; here, it’s a brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inclusion and, rather than killing himself because he was unable to face his fears and knew that pennywise was due to reproduce, Stan instead kills himself so that his fear won’t hold back the Losers and will galvanise them. This is given a heroic air in the film, which helps keep Stan a part of the group, but it’s never really presented as a motivation for the Losers sticking around to face Pennywise again.
Eddie also ends up dead in the finale; honestly, I thought that Mike was going to die (either in his place or as well), given his presence in the end, but Mike survives and Eddie gets impaled by one of It’s Spider-legs. This comes after Eddie has overcome Bowers and found the strength to strike what appears to be a fatal blow to the Spider and, before he dies, Eddie allows the Losers to realise that they can defeat It by disowning their fear of It and reducing It to a weak form, allowing Eddie to die a hero. This is a small issue, however; the new It movies seem to favour an oversimplification of It’s desire to inspire fear in Its prey. In the book, It likes Its prey to be scared because it improves the taste of the flesh and It delights in tormenting Its victims but, in these films, the Losers are able to defeat It by standing up to It and rejecting their fear of It, reducing It to little more than a blubbing baby. This was a factor in the book, miniseries, and Chapter One but, generally, Pennywise is enraged at the Losers hurting It and making It experience fear, rather than being powered by fear. It’s not a massive issue, as it’s a perfectly acceptable adaptation of Pennywise, but, as I say, it is a bit simplified. Similarly, Chapter Two seems to prefer the idea that It is actually an extraterrestrial lifeform that crashed to ancient Derry on a meteor, rather than an unspeakable eldritch horror; It’s true from is still living light but, rather than a Lovecraftian mass of orange lights that defy life, Chapter Two realises this form as three spinning orbs. Again, a fine way to show it and to hint at there being more to It, but a bit of an oversimplification.
Finally, one thing I feel would have helped with the film’s pacing is just omitting Henry Bowers completely. Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) took an unquestionably fatal tumble in Chapter One and his inclusion, while true enough to the book, is diluted so much that it would have been probably a lot better and easier to say Henry died and have It take the form of a zombified Bowers to attack Eddie. The time spent with Henry, brief though it may be, could then have been put into showing the adult Losers’ lives a bit more prior to returning to Derry. A big plot point for Bill is that everyone loves his books but hates the endings he writes; this is not-so-subtly based on real-life criticisms of a lot of King’s work, especially It. I, however, was always happy with the idea that It is best translated as a giant Spider; it worked as a metaphor and the ending always hit me hard as the Losers sacrifice so much to end Pennywsie’s threat and it’s a real poignant reflection of what it’s like to grow up and forget (or grow apart from) the friends that were once so important to you. Chapter Two, however, actually improved on the ending in a way that I found heart-warming in that, unlike in the book and miniseries, the Losers don’t lose their memories of each other after defeating Pennywise. Them losing Stan and Eddie and their memories after working so hard to remember everything always broke my heart so this really made me happy. Stephen King’s gratuitous cameo could have been shorter, though…like, he has a lot of lines and a lot of time was spent on indulging him.
While not as good as It: Chapter One, It: Chapter Two is still a solid horror movie; there’s plenty of creepy moments, gore, and a surprising amount of humour here that’s sure to appeal to fans of the first movie. Allowances have to be made for the characters we became attached to now being grown up and the cast does a great job stepping into the shoes of their younger counterparts; the cast is scarily fitting, which really helps to adjust to this narrative shift. While some of the plot points are a bit weaker and the ending may be disappointing to some, as a massive fan of the book I was very satisfied and just as touched by the ending, especially some of the tweaks they made that, in my opinion, actually improved it.