by Steven Wandling
Two years ago, Warner Brothers unleashed It: Chapter One, breaking box office records for the month of October and becoming the highest grossing R-rated horror film in cinematic history. The film, directed by Andy Muschietti, spun a terrifying and prescient tale about the fears, abuse, and traumas associated with and experienced by children on the verge of adolescence. Anchored by a a cast of talented young teenagers including Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard (Richie), with a topnotch Bill Skarsgard as the demonic clown Pennywise at its center, It was so effective and financially successful that a sequel was all but guaranteed.
It was always envisioned as a two-parter of course, mimicking the source material by horror master Stephen King (The Shining, Pet Sematary). Those familiar with King’s novel know that the narrative is split into halves, the first taking place when the Losers Club first encounters the evil in Derry, Maine known as Pennywise the Clown as children, and then again 27 years later as reunited adults.
It: Chapter One moved the first half of the story up to 1989, adding in that sweet Gen X nostalgia factor that Hollywood has long since figured out audiences just can’t get enough of. That means returning director Andy Muschietti’s Chapter Two brings the narrative to (almost) the present day, in 2016.
The problems in Chapter Two start almost from the beginning. For a movie that has a runtime of almost three hours, it’s alarming at how much of it feels rushed. After a vicious hate crime in Derry that marks the return of the cycle of Pennywise, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) quickly calls the scattered Losers to assemble back in Maine to honor the oath they took to defeat the evil clown the next time he returned.
It isn’t exactly clear what draws Mike to the incident itself in the first place where he actually confirms that Pennywise is indeed back and very hungry, but like so much in this movie, it doesn’t seem like it was ever properly explained. The plot requires Mike to go to the scene of the hate crime, therefore he does. Unfortunately, this type of lazy writing permeates throughout the remainder of this overstuffed sequel.
The sequel just ends up tripping over its own grand ambitions at every step along the way. Some would argue that the type of bombastic manic energy exhaustively displayed is to be admired, even if the end result is a mixed bag. I understand and to a certain extent agree, but when the filmmakers bring such a kitchen sink mentality to a movie it’s also more than fair to point that out.
A lot of the problems perhaps go back to the source material. There’s even a running gag throughout the movie that Bill (James McAvoy), who grew up to be a novelist, is a good writer that can’t pen a decent ending. This would be a funny wink at Stephen King’s critics if the ending of the It saga weren’t so…well…bad.
That doesn’t mean there’s no enjoyment to be had throughout It: Chapter Two. Far from it. There’s plenty of great set pieces, practical and VFX galore, and despite the film’s popularity, Muschietti never backs down from the dark hard R tone set by the first film. There’s several really fun and scary sequences that, when isolated by themselves, should please just about any horror fan.
The problem is the tissue connecting these scare sequences together. The script by Gary Dauberman (It: Chapter One, Swamp Thing) just feels hollow and empty whereas its predecessor had gravity and nuance. The characters suffer greatly at the expense of a very convoluted plot that draws from some of the worst elements of King’s work.
The adult Losers’ Club is introduced into Chapter Two as if they need no introduction at all. We know they all grew up to be pretty successful and wealthy individuals, save for Mike. None of it really matters though as it’s all just tossed off as an afterthought. Where the first film took its time to tell the story of these characters, the sequel uses the characters to tell its story, forgetting the reason why people cared in the first place.
It’s hard to see the adults as their childhood counterparts because the script doesn’t really give any opportunity to get to know them. The audience is just expected to because they spent some time with these almost forty year olds when they were twelve.
As good as the assembled cast for It: Chapter Two is, they can only work with the material on the page, and the script’s biggest problems are in the way it handles the characters. Mike isn’t really anything more than a character that solely exists to move the plot forward and keep the other more important characters on track. Bill Hader (Richie) and James Ransone (Eddie) have the best showing here as their banter adds some much needed humor into the mix, and Hader definitely has the most of a character arc out of the Losers, but that isn’t really saying much.
There’s isn’t that much of an arc to be had for anyone. Sadly, James McAvoy (Bill) and Jessica Chastain (Bev) come off slightly stilted, especially McAvoy. His character ends up being of such little importance it almost feels like a slight. And Jay Ryan (Ben) spends the entire film pining over Beverly and not really doing anything about it until (again) the plot requires him to.
Bill Skarsgard still shines as Pennywise every time he’s on screen, especially when he’s lurking in the shadows. The clown’s best moment echoes the original encounter from Chapter One with Georgie in the drainpipe as a little girl makes the mistake of thinking Pennywise is just a sad old clown, looking for a friend. It’s fiendish the way the sequence plays out, as it should be.
Pennywise feeds on fear and eats children. There just sadly aren’t enough moments like this great one to save the overall film, though there are several memorable scares that match the first. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) going back to her old apartment to be encountered by a woman that goes full Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Drag Me To Hell) by the time she’s done is almost worth the price of admission alone. There’s some great jump scares throughout It: Chapter 2, not to mention production design and some memorable FX, but in the end the script’s problems are what end up floating to the surface.
It: Chapter Two is currently playing in theaters nationwide. Thanks for reading! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with all your dark and lovely entertainment needs! Share this article with all your horror loving friends. If you would like to write for us shoot us a private message or DM on social media!
One thought on “It: Chapter Two Suffers From Its Own Ambitions”
I tend to agree with your criticisms, however my enjoyment of the film outweighed my disappointment (so much so that I have viewed it four times). Perhaps this is an instance of a TV adaptation of King’s work besting the hugely popular film adaptation of the same title. At the very least, the long form of the TV version allowed for the character development lacking in this film sequel. For me this deficiency is best illustrated by a scene that occurs at the end of the book, the TV version, and the feature film. The scene has Bill riding his beloved bike “Silver” as an adult. Since I’m sure you’re familiar with the scene, I’ll just say that the scene described by King, which also closes the TV mini-series, is powerful and magical enough to serve as a fitting end to such a long and tragic story. The feature film left out all of the power and magic, offering instead a cameo by King. Oh well……like I said, I really did enjoy the hell out of watching the film, but it was far from perfect.