It Chapter Two Review: No Ensemble Cast More Brilliant for Taking Down the Clown…
And making that exhausting ending something we can all endure
Warning: minor spoilers ahead
Considering the mania created by It in 2017, it’s a good sign that in the lead-up to premiere day, Andy Muschietti’s follow-up film It Chapter Two doesn’t make the mistake of overpromising.
It wasn’t just that critics lauded the first movie for redefining the horror genre. Hype and high praise were validated by its record-breaking performance at the box office. And “Highest-Grossing Horror Film of all Time” is one tough title to beat.
This easily suggests that the nearly three-hour-long concluding saga that hits theaters on September 4 has some pretty big demented clown shoes to fill. But for Muschietti, the film’s returning production team, the reunited cast of kiddos and the notable new additions, the main motivation is to complete the big, spine-chilling picture and see the final pages of Stephen King’s iconic novel IT through.
Still, does It Chapter Two go bigger? Scarier? Deeper? More intense? It certainly does in some ways…but only because it has to. As the final showdown, the definitive installment written for the screen by Gary Dauberman (the same man behind It along with the Annabelle movies and The Nun) has to reach far and wide to tie the past and present together. It must also dig deep to give the origin story of small-town Derry some serious justice while thinking out-of-this-world to adapt the bizarre elements written by King in the Ritual of Chüd. It Chapter Two insists on touching on all these, drawing out some events more than others. And this is precisely where its fault lies.
Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) and Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa). Photo Warner Bros. Pictures
It Chapter Two begins with a memory: the blood pact made in the summer of 1989 by the endearing, momentarily triumphant Losers. Uncertain about whether or not they’ve vanquished the shape-shifting creature devouring the children in their town, friends Bill (Jaeden Martell), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) swear to return in 27 years to finally kill the supernatural entity should it rise again…likely in the same frightening form it’s chosen to manifest itself in: Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård).
This fated day does come. Pennywise reawakens. And the now grown-up members of the Losers Club, oddly, aren’t ready (as is the audience, at first). It Chapter Two wastes no time hoisting its viewers into something grotesque, introducing a hate crime right off the bat and in the middle of a vibrant, family-friendly carnival. With scenes so jarring, it’s made clear that this place still, after 27 years, alludes to innocence lost, a childhood corrupted. It is here where Pennywise makes his presence known via dismembered body parts being found and people going missing once again.
At this point, the only one on high-alert for Pennywise’s return is Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the sole Derry resident of the seven after all these years, who acts quickly to summon the others. He rings them one by one and in doing so, allows the movie to reintroduce the characters as adults this time. High-rise buildings, nice cars, prescription drugs and successful jobs: all these work to set a new tone. For the characters, this depicts a funny thing about memory: “Sometimes, we are what we wish we could forget.”
Eddie (James Ransone) and Richie (Bill Hader) namely become enhanced versions of their younger selves. The former winds up becoming a Risk Analyst, ultimately channeling young Eddie’s hypochondria and general paranoia into something useful. The latter succeeds as a stand-up comedian, proving that the wise-cracking kid Richie was on to something. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is not exempt from falling into the same patterns, though her “after” is bleaker compared to the others and, unfortunately, mimics her “before.” She finds herself in an abusive relationship (that points to the twisted, traumatic upbringing under her father’s care), but musters up the courage to leave as soon as she gets the call from Mike.
A toast to the Losers. Photo Warner Bros. Pictures
The long-awaited reunion is something for fans to savor (it’s the last time the group is seen carefree and happy) because of the impeccable casting. Hader’s flawless take on Richie, early on, is commendable (a decision Finn Wolfhard had a hand in having personally requested for Hader to play the older version of his character). He brings a lightness to the bleak events that unfold. Ransone’s Eddie, in turn, does a great job of playing off of this. This kind of chemistry, command and nuanced portrayals are what carry the film characters through and make the uneven pacing of the events that follow rather manageable.
But it’s undeniable that in some parts, It Chapter Two struggles to lay out its cards. Does it want to play up nostalgia and turn to the same tricks used two years before? Does it want to propel the characters forward and abide by bigger, scarier, deeper and more intense? Granted, there’s a push and pull here that doesn’t make anything clear-cut. It’s foolish anyway to expect to process a story progression that doesn’t happen in a straight line. Memories make the overarching theme, but flashbacks are the medium. It’s also what moves the mourning of the characters along. The movie goes back and forth in time, rewinding to the group in the ‘80s, then hitting fast-forward to the present. It goes back again to cover individual plot lines and back into the now to see how Beverly, Bill (James McAvoy), Ben (Jay Ryan), Mike, Eddie and Richie fulfill their own missions. Only in doing so can they come back together to perform a ritual studied by Mike that promises to finally kill the evil creature.
The action-packed adventure (which, at some points, begins to feel a little like “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” for grown-ups) culminates in the same well house on Neibolt Street. Here, the six heroes must power through a taxing round at this real-life House of Horrors the way they did as children. All this to get to an ancient ritual site in the bowels of Derry, where the final standoff with Pennywise takes place.
“For 27 years, I dreamt of you. I craved you. I’ve missed you!” Photo Warner Bros. Pictures
Since the film plows through the remaining pages of the original novel (300-something to 1,100 to give audiences an idea), there’s obviously a lot to take in, commit to and cover. One would think, then, that the two hours and 50 minutes would be utilized in the best way possible. Instead, the film is distended further by jump scares, an abundance of creepy crawlies and twists and turns that don’t necessarily add value to the epic conclusion. The same could be said about some comedic quips near the end, which might unnerve anyone who expects to see at least a glimpse of a well-rounded resolution by the second hour of the movie.
On the flip side, it could be this slow-burn storytelling that makes the resolution impactful when it does come around. (One scene comes to mind where I regretted wishing for less comedy and would give anything to have it all back by the end.) In this light, the film redeems itself, closing out the chapter beautifully once the dust settles and the Losers pledge allegiance to their club once more.
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
It all comes full circle for It Chapter Two, regardless of the fact that it elects to take and much, much longer route. (Hey, at least, it gets there.) See for yourself when Warner Bros. releases the film in theaters nationwide on September 4, Wednesday.
Featured Image Warner Bros. Pictures
Art Alexandra Lara