2019 | rated R | starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgard, James Ransone, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jaeden Martell, Jack Dylan Grazer | directed by Andy Muschietti | 2 hrs 49 mins |
The 2017 adaptation of It is terrific, a surprise in how rich and fully formed it was. It’s a big, bombastic horror movie that takes all of the worst impulses of studio horror movies, subverts traditional atmospheric dread and makes them work. It’s a big CGI-heavy jump-scare carnival ride that shows it’s villain early and often but through director Andy Muschietti’s epic handling and the charming chemistry of it’s cast of kids, the movie is a ton of fun with hardly a false note. It only adapted half of Stephen King’s epic novel and ended with a sequel-promise where our heroes would come back to Derry if clown-demon Pennywise ever returned. The film also rode a tide of 80s nostalgia, Stephen King popularity resurgence and Clourophobia to huge success for a 2 1/2 hour R-rated horror movie.
Muschietti returns to bring the alternating other half of King’s novel to the screen and his epic to a close. It’s just as big, loud, bombastic and CGI heavy (if not moreso). It’s got a few fun horror set pieces and a few moments of wonderful only-King weirdness, but nothing here flows together as smoothly. It’s also in something of a creative corner from a studio point of view. The cigar-chomping suits at New Line know that one of the things people liked so much about It was it’s original cast of kids, and there are, quite frankly, jokes and dialog that kids can get away with that adults cannot. The first movie is hilariously crude, this one is desperately straining for comic relief. On top of it, group of kids fighting a clown is one thing, but a group of full grown adults fighting a clown – even a shape-shifting demon clown – kind of comes off silly. So by mandate It – Chapter 2 brings those kids back for an endless series of flashbacks and hallucinatory sequences.
It starts out promising enough with a re-introduction to those characters now as adults. The movie does a pretty incredible job casting the adult versions of each character. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) never left town, now sitting the Derry library attic listening to the police scanner for signs of It’s return. It’s been 27 years and Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard, still the film’s highlight) has awoken again with revenge on his mind against the kids who once defeated him. Everyone else has left town, Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) now married to a wealthy but abusive man, Bill (James McAvoy) now in the ever-present King-surrogate novelist character holstering a foreshadowing running joke that all of his endings are terrible, wise-cracking Richie (Bill Hader) is now a comedian selling out concert halls, hypochondriac Eddie (James Reborn, looking like Christian Bale while doing a spot on take of young counterpart Jack Dylan Grazer) is now a risk manager with lingering mother issues and Ben (Jay Ryan) has gone from fat bullied Ben to a buffed-up stud.
If you’re expecting the Losers Club to come charging back to defeat the killer klown from outer Maine, not so fast. The movie has a lot of exhausting stock roadblocks and stalling tactics it puts in front of that. Roadblocks that only feel like they are there to artificially lengthen the story. As it turns out, they all have amnesia, nobody wants to do anything but get out of town immediately and in order to regain there memories they have to divide up and go on horcrux fetch-quests around Derry looking for totems. It’s here where we bring back the original cast for an endless series of silly, eye-rolling, hallucinatory set pieces that have no consequence. The movie hits the brakes and sits inert for at least an hour as Muschietti laboriously constructs these light and sound shows. All the back and forth prevents the development of both the young and old versions of the Losers Club, even retconning the events of the first film to do it. A great cast gets wasted as these characters are slimmed down to 1-note qualities. To the extent that It Chapter 2 actually deals with childhood trauma creating a cycle of behavior that lingers in adulthood, it feels like just another story detour.
Where It built to an escalating pace, this movie spins in circles, doing victory laps through the first film’s greatest hits, going over and over through ground we’ve seen before. There are a few flashes of surreal ingenuity here. The return of It’s best human villain, Bowers, splashed out of a sewer tunnel, is terrific as is his wacky, zombie escape from a mental institute. Muschietti is so high on his hallucinations he treats Bowers just like another one, popping in and out of scenes like just another Pennywise dream sequence.
Both the adult half of King’s book and the 1990 TV-movie isn’t as well regarded as the younger half, and It – Chapter 2 follows suit. It’s a better adaptation, with Pennywise’s final form given a CGI upgrade that looks a lot better than it did 30 years ago. Muschietti is still boldly confident with this material that gives it a base level of competency. It looks great even when its exhausting us with silliness and running in place. But Muschietti does what he can with his mandate. Turning It Chapter 2 into something as fresh and fun as the first film would have involved a heavy re-write of the book and a complete ditching of the safety of the original cast. It would involve tossing out all of the amnesia, all of the video game quests, the Indian Burial Ground plot (lord, I didn’t even get into that!) and all of the psychic debates about leaving town and sent the adult Losers Club on a try-and-fail adventure that puts their adult lives and families at risk.
Instead it is frustratingly tangled, played safe and glaringly bad. It is really something that a pre-planned sequel with a hit book behind it feels like a rushed cash grab. The first film is a ton of fun, the second is actually embarrassing. I cringed and squirmed at every awkward tonal shift (Eddie being attacked by the Leper again, this time played for laughs?), every cartoonish monster attack sequences and the children’s book ending. It’s terrible.