IT Chapter 2 (2019) Director: Andy Mushietti . 27 years after seemingly defeating the monstrous entity known as Pennywise, the so-called Losers Club returns to the cursed town of Derry to destroy the creature for good.
Minor spoilers follow.
After a hate crime against a gay couple at a Derry carnival prompts the reemergence of Pennywise, the protean monster resumes its typical routine of feeding on various townsfolk and leaving behind mutilated corpses. This catches the attention of Derry librarian Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member of the Losers to remain in town as a kind of guardian. Hanlon has been busy over the decades, collecting information about the creature and going on hallucinatory vision quests with a local tribe of Native Americans. As evidence that Pennywise has returned mounts, Hanlon reaches out to his childhood friends and reminds them of their blood oath to kill the beast for good.
In a series of vignettes, we swiftly zip through the adult lives of our beloved Losers from the 2017 original. Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) is a successful author and screenwriter married to a lovely actress. Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) is a wildly popular stand-up comedian. Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is a wealthy fashion designer with an abusive and deranged husband. Former Mama’s Boy hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) is a risk assessment analyst for an insurance firm. Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), the chubby boy sweet on Beverly, is now a hunky corporate architect. And Stan Uris likes jigsaw puzzles and doesn’t like sewer-dwelling clown monsters.
That’s about all the life details we get on the adult version of the boy who once had 90% of his head in Pennywise’s slavering jaws.
Only Mike actually recalls Pennywise. His call disrupts the memory block that had prevented each of The Losers from remembering that fateful summer or much about their childhood in general. Once each arrives back in Derry, this mystical amnesia begins to break down and they relive the laughing horror from 27 years before. After being taunted by Pennywise’s otherworldly visions, each adult hero is sent out on a solitary quest to reconnect with their childhood selves before going to war with the hungry creature.
Let’s break down what worked and what didn’t.
You couldn’t ask for a better cast. From bonafide movie stars like Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy to the relatively unknown Jay Ryan, everyone delivers heartfelt performances that play well as convincing extensions of what the younger cast did. No one is going through the motions here, and no one was the weak link. Particularly not Bill Hader as Richie. Critics of the film have taken issue with the tonal contrast of his comedic one-liners with intense and violent scenes, but that’s who Tozier always was. When he was scared shitless as a kid, he cracked wise. Hader ably handles the drama and comedy, and one of his funniest moments involves an impersonation of Pennywise. Richie is my favorite Loser from the novel, and he’s well represented here.
Henry Bowers, played effectively as a teen psychopath by Nicholas Hamilton in Chapter One, is even scarier as an adult (Teach Grant). Fully under Pennywise’s influence, he brings intensity to a more human threat facing The Losers Club. He’s also the only character with a truly meaningful 1989 flashback, explaining what became of him after taking a seemingly fatal plunge down a deep well in the first film. Hamilton and Grant both appear in Chapter Two and both are excellently deranged.
One of the film’s scariest scenes involves a little girl chasing a lightning bug and encountering the carnivorous clown. It reminded me of the novel’s unique mix of dark wonder and gruesome terror, and it also reminded me of the best scenes in Chapter One. Pennywise, for all his evil, is a worker of strange and sinister miracles. He alters reality itself, and his shadowy influence controls the behavior of Derry’s adult population. Bill Skarsgard’s wonderful performance is another expression of dark magic. The voice, the mannerisms, those wild eyes. I love the rare bits where he gets to play the clown as a sympathetic misfit for the purpose of luring victims in. While he’s cooing and sweet-talking at the pint-sized lightning bug hunter, viscous drool is spilling from his blood-red lips. It’s all there in his eyes, that flat and unmistakable expression of pure predatory appetite. I found it reminiscent of Robert Patrick’s fine work as the T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. He smiled, he behaved like a human police officer, but his cold eyes gave him away. It’s almost unheard of for two different actors to give equally iconic performances as the same fictional character, but Tim Curry and Skarsgard both delivered the goods in different ways. The sad fact that Chapter Two underuses the title character is criminal. More on that deficiency later.
The Hall Of Mirrors scene, in which Bill attempts to save a local boy from becoming dinner, is beautifully done. Chapter Two is a film featuring individual moments and set pieces that shine brightly in a whole body that just doesn’t, like diamonds trapped in rancid gravy. And now, the bad news.
Pennywise only appears in about 25 minutes of a 3-hour movie. And that’s a problem. He is replaced by far less effective CGI ghouls and goblins (and a Paul Bunyan statue) that don’t have the same impact.
We’ve seen Pennywise at his worst again and again. Now we need to go beneath the cocked eyes and buck-toothed grin and uncover the truth. He has to go from being a mysterious boogeyman to something more fleshed out and three dimensional. The creature’s true origin is disappointingly cut from the film, despite a brief animated sequence. If this fantastic monster is about to meet Its end, shouldn’t we at least know what It IS first?
In a 2017 interview, Andy Mushietti said that the complicated origins and alternate dimensions were being saved for the adult half of the story. The novel explains that the creature is part of a much larger cosmic force of ravenous destruction, and opposed by a being of pure creation in the form of a massive turtle. This concept is further fleshed out in Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. None of this weird deliciousness appears in “It: Chapter Two”. There is a brief vision alluding to it, but this truncated version does not involve the Macroverse or the Todash Darkness or turtles. It’s a simplified glimpse and nothing more. No alternate dimensions or cosmic wonder. It comes off like the director was afraid movie audiences would not grasp the novel’s trippier and more complex elements, so he sanded down the details.
I’m not an enemy of social progress or the inclusion of diverse characters in film. I worshipped Wesley Snipes as Blade 20 years before you got a Black Panther movie. I loved Buffy Summers 21 years before the media became obsessed with championing female superheroes. But “IT: Chapter Two” states that Richie Tozier is gay and in love with Eddie, something not at all included in King’s 1986 novel. Yes, Kaspbrak and Tozier are constant verbal sparring partners, with their banter primarily centering on Mrs. Kaspbrak. But there’s no romantic or sexual tension between them. This is a case of social justice messages being randomly implanted into entertainment. During the writing of this review, I looked up Richie Tozier online. The top seven articles that popped up bore headlines that praised Richie’s new sexual orientation. Who a hero or heroine sleeps with should never be more important than what they contribute to the story they’re a part of. It’s sad, really.
And then there’s all those flashbacks.
For some reason, Mushietti feels compelled to deliver an endless series of close calls each of the Losers had before the final confrontation in 1989. Besides making the incredibly powerful Pennywise look foolish and inept for having repeatedly failed to kill completely helpless and isolated children, it’s all a bit unnecessary. Beyond the encounters shown in IT: Chapter One, we don’t need to witness MORE motivation for the Losers to fear Pennywise. Of course, they fear him. He’s fucking terrifying. He waved at Mike Hanlon while gnawing on a child’s severed arm. He ate Bill’s brother. He nearly drowned Beverly in blood. He tried to infect germaphobic Eddie with leprosy. He had Stan’s head in his mouth.
Why now, in the calm before the final storm, are we getting these emotionally charged sequences from the past that are designed to shed light on the present? We should’ve seen these during the first film. It feels like empty and nostalgic filler while we wait around for the final battle. When Luke Skywalker ignited his lightsaber to battle Darth Vader on the Death Star in “Return Of The Jedi,” did they suddenly cut to a flashback set after “Empire Strikes Back” where Luke whines to Leia about his missing hand and horrible father? No. We didn’t need to be reminded that Vader was a cold bastard. We were aware going into Jedi what each of these characters was about because we had seen their histories unfold in the two previous entries. That’s how it should be. That is narrative momentum.
If you’ve read the book or seen the 1990 miniseries, you know that the final form of the creature is a massive female spider that lays eggs and traps victims in elaborate webs. And while the final battle does include one clever philosophical concept and a truly great scene involving Eddie and Richie, Mushietti drops the ball hard when it comes to the look of King’s monster. It doesn’t even make sense, given the context. I’m tiptoeing around spoilers, so we’ll leave it that.
“IT: Chapter Two” is a film of mystifying and disappointing decisions that feels like it might have suffered from studio influence and meddling to remove some of King’s more wild notions. I didn’t hate it at all and quite liked most of the 3 hour run time due to an incredible cast and their chemistry. But as the final chapter in a franchise, it had the responsibility to provide answers and depth.