REVIEW: IT – Chapter Two (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros. Pictures

The following is a review of IT: Chapter Two — Directed by Andy Muschietti.

It would be an understatement to say that Andy Muschietti’s IT (2017) was a great success. Successfully building on audiences’ relationship with the 1990s mini-series, novel, or creature design, IT went on to become the highest-grossing Stephen King adaptation and the highest-grossing horror film in North American box office history (not adjusted for inflation). Therefore, naturally, expectations for the adaptation of the second ‘half’ of the 1000-page long clown-focused King novel were through the roof. Ultimately, although I don’t think the second chapter lives entirely up to the frightening but charming first film, IT: Chapter Two finds much more success in depicting the grown-up half of the novel than the mini-series did, and, even though I have notable problems with the film, I’m mostly satisfied with how this oversized crowdpleaser wrapped up the story.

IT: Chapter Two takes place twenty-seven years after the events of Andy Muschietti’s IT, as a violent attack on a young gay man (played by Xavier Dolan) seems to indicate that Pennywise the Dancing Clown (played by Bill Skarsgård) has made his feared return. Mike Hanlon (played by Isaiah Mustafa and Chosen Jacobs), now an adult, is the only member of the Loser’s Club to have stayed in Derry, Maine, and he immediately knows that the creature that he and his friends once banished is back and looking for more victims. So, Mike picks up a telephone and calls all of his old friends, who have all oddly forgotten about that summer and the promise they once made to each other. They all have to return to Derry and banish the monster once again, but this time for good.

Ben Hanscom (played by Jay Ryan and Jeremy Ray Taylor) has lost a lot of weight and is now a successful architect, Bill Denborough (played by James McAvoy and Jaeden Martell) is now a prominent novelist and screenwriter who struggles with endings, Eddie Kaspbrak (played by James Ransone and Jack Dylan Grazer) the hypochondriac lives in New York City and is now a risk assessor, Richie Tozier (played by Bill Hader and Finn Wolfhard) is now a stand-up comedian, and Beverly Marsh (played by Jessica Chastain and Sophia Lillis) is now a successful fashion designer who is in an abusive marriage. None of them are ready for what awaits them back in Derry, but Stanley Uris (played by Andy Bean and Wyatt Oleff) is particularly frightened by what may happen back in his home town.

IT: Chapter Two is a film about the deep cuts of childhood trauma, repression of trauma, facing your demons, and fear of exposure. In its best scenes, it shows the perfectly cast adult versions of the characters reminiscing and reacting together with one another. The cast really is spectacular. Though their subplot can become a little bit repetitive, I greatly enjoyed watching Ryan and Chastain together, even though Chastain’s character, in particular, might’ve benefitted from a greater focus on what she is leaving behind to go to Derry.

James McAvoy was the absolute perfect choice to play an adult Bill Denborough. I think McAvoy brings a lot to the film whenever he is asked to start stuttering out of nowhere and to break down in tears. He handles the emotional moments quite well, even when such a moment is used to get audiences to chuckle. However, I think it is James Ransone, who you may know from Scott Derrickson’s Sinister, whose performance most closely resembles that of the younger version of the character — played really well by Jack Dylan Grazer. I really hope this becomes a little bit of a breakout role for Ransone and that it earns him additional significant roles in the future because he really is quite good here.

Honestly, the entire new adult cast does a good job of portraying the characters that they have inherited, but one performance in the film stands head and shoulders above all of the others in the film. For quite some time Bill Hader has been known as the funny man. But in his Emmy-award-winning HBO show Barry he has started to show just how gifted and well-rounded of an actor he is. I believe that he has proved on his show that he is just as capable of moving you to tears as he is at making you laugh, and, in IT: Chapter Two, Bill Hader gives the standout performance as an adult Richie Tozier. His character arc is rich in potential, and I think he taps into something really powerful here. The power of his performance caught me by surprise in moments.

Bill Skarsgård still does a very good job of making the Pennywise-role his own, but I don’t think his character is as scary in this film as he was in the first chapter, so to speak. This is partly due to the way the humor sometimes undercuts pivotal scenes. Nevertheless, I think there are several memorable horror sequences and set-pieces that, though perhaps sometimes weakened by the humor, will sit in wait in my mind for quite some time ready to spook me when I least anticipate it. I particularly enjoyed the sequence that was an homage to a John Carpenter classic, as well as the scene in which Pennywise turns into young Beverly to freak-out Ben Hanscom.

I think, as has been established already, that there is a lot to love about It: Chapter Two, but I also think there is surprisingly much to dislike about it as well. It isn’t put together nearly as well as the first film was. It isn’t as polished of an experience. This is a real shame because Andy Muschietti rightly got a lot of praise for making a terrific first chapter, and I think a lot of us expected Muschietti to take what he had learned from the first film and make wise choices in the second film. But here Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman bite off more than they can chew, and they’ve come up with a frustratingly bloated and overlong sequel.

Though some of the humor works wonderfully — mostly thanks to Ransone and Hader’s strong performances — there are several scenes in which great horror set-pieces are undercut by hit-or-miss humor. There is an odd joke about Meg Ryan’s hair in the opening of the film that seemed to confuse the audience that saw the film with me. It certainly didn’t get any laughs. However, the most perplexing moment in the film came when a creature vomited black fluid onto one of the main characters. Instead of an expected jump-scare-provoking loud noise, the film makes use of the chorus from Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning,” which would’ve fit better in a Deadpool-movie. I was honestly baffled when this moment happened in the film.

Furthermore, the film suffers from loads of expositional dialogue and is weakened by the constant need to separate each main character from one another. It becomes a rather difficult juggling act for the film as it both makes use of many flashback scenes and has sequences with each and every main character on his or her own. There is a lot to chew on in IT: Chapter Two and a lot of it is very entertaining, but the film itself is bogged down by a clumsy and very rushed opening act in which I think they botch the big Stanley Uris scene (and I don’t love how the ending of the movie comments on the scene either), as well as a second act that sometimes feels never-ending. This year, we have seen some truly great films that are very long, but IT: Chapter Two is severely weakened by its runtime, whereas Avengers: Endgame and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did not suffer as much from similar runtimes, even though they certainly tested some audiences.

There is no doubt in my mind that Andy Muschietti’s follow-up to IT, his brilliant coming-of-age horror film, is a meandering and bloated sequel with tonal issues. But I also do think that the film mostly overcomes its many issues to ultimately be a quite moving sequel with great performances and memorable and frightening imagery. To me, Bill Hader’s performance really elevated the film. Though this may be a little bit of a disappointment when compared to 2017’s film, Muschietti’s two IT-chapters are both much more effective and impressive than the mini-series that once made my blood run cold when I was a kid. Though perhaps this film is proof that a mini-series is the best way to tell this story. I would certainly be interested in watching a version that spliced Muschietti’s films together.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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