It Chapter Two (2019)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader
Synopsis: Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call brings them back.
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material)
Runtime: 2 hr 49 min
Release Date: September 6, 2019
"For 27 years, I dreamt of you---I cravvvved you----I missed you!" remarks Pennywise the Dancing Clown, that demonic entity who has re-emerged from the depths of hell 27 years after the Losers put an end to his ring of terror on the small town of Derry, Maine. This time around, he's out for vengeance on the Losers, and he'll stop at nothing until he gets it.
In my review of the first It two years ago, I wrote that it was one of the finest horror films made in recent years, for it was one that not only succeeded in conjuring up a significant amount of scares, but also one that possessed strong acting, emotional depth, timely themes and subject matter, and rich characterization. Oh, and the wickedly fun crude humor was just an added bonus. So my hopes were high going into the second chapter and, while they weren't quite met, It Chapter Two still has a lot to offer.
The first thing you'll realize watching the second chapter is the larger budget. While the first It was made for $35 million--still a significant budget for a horror film--its sequel more than doubled that figure with an estimated $79 million budget. And let me tell you, director Andy Muschietti certainly worked hard not to waste a dime. While the first film's scares relied more on smaller scale sequences (like a kid wandering into the barrens and being taken by Pennywise), the second chapter, especially in the final act, incorporates higher scale action--and more CGI action. Bill Skarsgard's gleefully creepy performance as Pennywise in the first film was already aided by CGI work, but this film takes it to another level. Much more shape shifting is in store, as is elevated grotesque imagery. And this is one of the two most disappointing aspects of the film, as the first's smaller budget actually worked in its favor, paving the way for suspenseful scenes that had more practicality and weren't as focused on grossing the viewer out, but scaring them instead. Sadly, Chapter Two is much more focused on the former, even though it still offers up a couple good scares.
The second biggest fault in this film is its length. I don't mind long films--some of my all-time favorites are very lengthy. But the key ingredient in a long film is pacing, and Chapter Two simply isn't as refined in this department as the first film. It runs about a half hour too long (which if edited out would put it around the length of the first film) and features several scenes that don't contribute to the story. Yes, we get to see Pennywise wreak havoc, but the characters he interacts with have no connection with our main characters, which gives the scenes a painfully unneeded feeling. From what I've read, some of these scenes (including the opening) were ones in the book, so you can't entirely blame Muschietti for including them. But still, part of the job of the screenwriter (and by extension the director) is adapting the book for the screen, including only what's necessary for the plot to advance in streamlined fashion, and sadly, Chapter Two is faulty in this regard.
The first film dealt with strong themes of fear, abuse, and the power of friendship, and the second follows in the same fashion while also incorporating ideas of memory and how it shapes an individual over the course of their life. A primary theme that drives Chapter Two is that all memories, good and bad, are important and shape who we are as humans. While the bad memories usually stick with us and the good memories are easier to forget, we should think of the good that came from the bad, like the fact that the Losers' abuse at the hands of bullies and the terror and fear inflicted on them by Pennywise is what brought them together and made them friends, as well as what made them emotionally stronger. And it's rather fitting that in many ways the film's heartbreakingly triumphant final scene mirrors the closing of Stranger Things 3--with a letter written to a group of '80s kids that endured so much together and are forever bonded and changed by their experiences with one another.
The good in the film (just like the first It) doesn't stop with its rich thematic work, however. The adult cast for the counterparts for our '80s Losers Club is as perfect as can be, particularly the casting of James Ransone as Eddie, who not only looks like his young counterpart, but effortlessly mirrors his mannerisms, speech patterns, and facial expressions. Bill Hader as adult Richie also provides the majority of the laughs here, just as young Richie (Finn Wolfhard) did in the first film. But the others--Jessica Chastain as Beverly, James McAvoy as Billy, Isaiah Mustafa as Mike, Jay Ryan as Ben, and Andy Bean as Stanley all succeed in evoking their young counterparts, and some research shows that two of those actors--Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader were specifically chosen by their young actor counterparts. The other strong performance of course comes once again from Bill Skarsgard, who delivers another wickedly charismatic performance, one that he'll certainly be remembered for years down the road.
It Chapter Two isn't as leanly paced and sharply directed as the first film (even though Muschietti still provides some excellent cinematography) and the amplified large scale CGI action makes you miss the smaller, suspenseful-driven thrills of the first film (think of Patrick's frantic demise in the Barrens as he gets cornered by laughing deformed children and then approached by a red balloon). And even though Muschietti offers a pleasing melding of the past and present through flashbacks, spending time with the '80s kids is just more entertaining than with the adults, despite the excellent casting for the adults. All in all, despite its shortcomings, Chapter Two is still an entertaining, thoughtful conclusion to Stephen King's classic novel, and one that, together with the first It, should put Andy Muschietti on the map for future projects--hopefully in the horror genre.
Written by Anthony Watkins, September 16, 2019