It: Chapter Two (2019)

6 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“It” (or “It: Chapter One,” released in 2017) was a horror classic—both scary and deep. I loved it, and I considered the possibilities of a worthy sequel. I knew the direction it was going to go, with the kids from “Chapter One” having grown up in “Chapter Two” to return to their hometown and combat their childhood traumas in the form of a demonic clown named Pennywise. 

This story was already covered in the first adaptation of Stephen King’s original novel, in a 1990 TV miniseries—but while the material with those kids was solid and effective enough, even its director agreed that the stuff with the adult counterparts simply wasn’t as good. But I wasn’t cynical about this cinematic retelling, because I felt there was a great story and a great horror film that can be executed with the very idea of adults looking back on the things that terrified them as children and having to confront the past again. 

“It: Chapter Two” wasn’t exactly that. But it was still enough of an interesting ride that I’ll recommend it and see it again. 

Remember in “Chapter One,” when the kids encounter Pennywise (played chillingly by Bill Skarsgard) and other silly monsters in a haunted house? It was a fun detour, in an “Evil Dead” sort of way. But that’s all it was: a detour. Not all of the scares in “Chapter One” were meant to be that way. And that’s the big problem I have with “Chapter Two”—MANY of them are executed in that insane, over-the-top fashion.

At first, I thought, this makes sense—since It’s favorite form is a clown, it stands to reason that It will use “clownish” ways to mess with people it plans to eat/destroy. And to be fair, some of it is fun, such as when our main characters encounter goofy horrors within fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant. But in a horror film that runs 170 minutes(!) long, it’s probably better to save that kind of insanity for the climax rather than give us great chunks of that ahead of time. 

For example, remember that creepy old lady from the teaser trailer that got audiences interested from the start? In the movie, she turns into something that’s not so “creepy.” 

But this is still the skillful work of director Andy Muschietti, who also helmed “Chapter One.” And he still gives us solid characterization from the characters (who I’ll get to in a bit), as well as some genuinely frightening and tense moments—these include a very creepy scene in which Pennywise manipulates a little girl with a facial birthmark, an encounter with Pennywise in a carnival funhouse (go figure), and the film also opens with a harsh, savage beating of a gay couple, half of whom becomes Pennywise’s first victim. (That serves as effective commentary—a vicious hate crime is what awakens the demon that plagues this small town.) 

So, here we are, meeting up with “the Losers Club” having grown up since the original and left this town of Derry, Maine behind (for the most part) and now come back because they swore 27 years ago to return if Pennywise returned after they thought they defeated It. Many of them have forgotten the experiences with It—when they return, it doesn’t take them terribly long to remember why they’re there. And after considering turning away again and leaving it all behind, they all realize that they can’t let It get away and claim any more victims, and so they stay and fight—only this time, they’re determined to kill it and stop it forever. 

Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the town librarian, is the only member of the Losers who stayed in Derry, and thus is the one who remembers. When Pennywise claims its first victim, Mike rallies all of the other Losers, who have all gone their separate ways to become successful one way or another:

  • Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) was the ringleader of the Losers as a child, having brought his friends together to fight the monster after it killed his little brother Georgie. Now he’s a best-selling novelist/screenwriter and married to a successful actress. But everyone, including director Peter Bogdanovich (interesting cameo), tells him he has trouble with his endings.
  • Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), who was subject to many nasty rumors in school and abused by her father, is now a fashion designer. But she’s also in a bad relationship with an abusive husband. 
  • Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) has slimmed down in a major way after being overweight as a child and is now a hunky architect. (Side-note: Brandon Crane, who played Young Ben in the 1990 miniseries, cameos here as a partner in Ben’s firm. I thought that was pretty cool.) 
  • Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) is still the “trashmouth” he was when he was a kid, only now he’s a stand-up comedian. 
  • Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransome) is still a hypochondriac, but he now has the appropriate job of risk assessor. (And ironically, when he gets the call about the news, he gets into a slight traffic accident.) 
  • Stanley Uris (Andy Bean), the most fearful and reluctant member of the Losers, is now an accountant. His tale is the most tragic of the bunch, as when he gets the call from Mike about Pennywise’s return, he decides not to come back to Derry…in fact, he kills himself. (This happens early in the film—I wouldn’t call it a spoiler.) 

Since the Losers have grown up and put the past behind them, they have practically become the adults that wouldn’t help them as children. This is what I meant when I said there was some great potential in a story like this—these characters can not only overcome their past and change their future as a result, but they can right many wrongs that were made to It’s other targets. Once these characters are reunited (or at least, most of them are reunited), we’re on board and ready to follow them wherever they go…even though, I’ll admit, there is something silly about square adults going up against a clown that most people can’t even see. Pennywise is more of a conventional horror-movie monster this time around than the horrifying demonic presence he was in “Chapter One,” which also means there’s something more off-putting and terrifying about this thing going after small children than grown adults. 

(But Bill Skarsgard still does a game job as Pennywise. He’s always fun to watch.) 

All of the actors playing the grown Losers are terrific, especially Isaiah Mustafa who plays Mike as someone who has been through hell and is waiting for a way out, James Ransome who is both sincere and funny as Eddie, and especially Bill Hader, who knocks it out of the park as Richie, who of course is one of those comics who uses humor as a defense mechanism for his own insecurities. (And of course, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, who have already proven themselves as accomplished actors, are very good here as well.) When they’re alone, facing individual terrors brought on by It, they’re very effective. But they’re even better when they’re together. 

Oh, and I forgot to mention the return of the child actors from “Chapter One” reappearing in flashback sequences in “Chapter Two.” On the one hand, it’s great to see these kids again after we’ve come to know them well in a whole movie before. But on the other hand…there is some CG reworking to make them younger, since they’ve obviously gotten a little older in the two years prior. Some of it is actually quite unnoticeable…while the rest of it (especially with Jeremy Ray Taylor as young Ben) is on the same distracting uncanny-valley level as Grand Moff Tarkin in “Rogue One.” 

I’m recommending “It: Chapter Two” as a fun, well-crafted, GOOD horror movie, but at the same time, I’m disappointed when I keep imaging the GREAT horror film it could have been. Maybe if, as I said, more focus was brought onto purely tense and psychological terror than a lot of CGI boo-scares and grossout visuals (not to mention, a lot of spider-based visuals too), it would have been right up there with “Chapter One,” which I still think is a great movie. But I can’t deny I still had fun with much of “Chapter Two,” and when it does give me what I asked for, with a few tense, creepy moments here or there and the trials of our main characters (not to mention the solid chemistry amongst them all), it is quite satisfying. And at the very least, as the conclusion to a nearly-five-hour horror story, it feels like the end. The whole story has been told, the original book’s structure has been covered, and there’s no reason for Pennywise the Dancing Clown (or It) to return…is there?

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