Film Review: It Chapter Two
A Parade of Half-Formed Ideas, It Chapter Two is a Disappointment
It Chapter Two, director Andy Muschietti’s followup to 2017’s wildly successful It, is a baffling hodgepodge of half-baked ideas. Every time the film has an interesting choice to make, it makes the wrong one, squandering its stellar cast and Stephen King’s rich mythology. Frustratingly overlong and exceedingly myopic, It Chapter Two is one of this year’s most disappointing horror blockbusters.
It Chapter Two begins with a hate crime. Lifted straight from Stephen King’s novel, the film opens with the savage beating of a gay couple by a group of homophobic teens. The more unfortunate of the two, the asthmatic Adrian Mellon, is dumped over a bridge into the river, where an even more gruesome death awaits him at the hands of the primordial evil, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). The scene is quite indicative of how misguided It Chapter Two is, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, disgusting slurs are slung, and yes, this is a harrowing and triggering depiction of a violent hate crime, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a place in the story. In fact, pretty much everyone involved with the film acknowledges the scene’s thematic importance - its prescient weight. Jessica Chastain, who plays the adult version of Beverly Marsh, perhaps conveyed it best in an interview with Variety: “I think you need that scene because [King] writes about the darkness that’s under the surface, the dirt under the fingernails of these small towns or of mankind. That’s what It represents. It’s the darkness of human behavior.” The cameo casting of gay filmmaker and activist Xavier Dolan as Adrian Mellon seems to underline the scene’s potential resonance, and Stephen King himself has implied that Pennywise represents the dark underbelly of humanity, an undying force that both amplifies and feeds off our basest evils. So why does it feel so perfunctory? It Chapter Two is far from a homophobic movie, but it still has no idea how to extrapolate its own opening scene beyond a violent reintroduction of the series’ villain. And the film’s shortsightedness isn’t limited to just its subtext - at every crossroads, creatively and narratively, It Chapter Two makes wrong decisions.
“And the film’s shortsightedness isn’t limited to just its subtext - at every crossroads, creatively and narratively, It Chapter Two makes the wrong decision.”
Picking up 27 years after the first film, It Chapter Two centers around the return of the Losers Club to Derry, Maine. Having banished Pennywise into the void back in 1988, an adult Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) - the one member of the Club who never left town - is the first to sense the return of the eldritch evil in 2016. Invoking the blood pact made all those years ago, Mike reaches out to Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransome), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Stanley (Andy Bean), recruiting them once again to kill Pennywise. Either due to magic or mystical - the film never elaborates - all of the wayward members of the gang have mostly forgotten their adventures when they were children, with their traumatic memories returning only after making their way back to Derry.
To be clear, the absolute best thing about It Chapter Two is its star-studded cast. While James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain put forth perfectly serviceable - albeit thankless - performances, it’s Bill Hader as Richie Tozier and James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak that steal the show. With a quip-heavy chemistry, the two deliver pitch perfect renditions of the same characters played by Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer, acting as the heart of the film. However, with Hader’s Richie, the film also attempts to draw a throughline with its opening scene, and with that it makes a considerable misstep. It is implied that Richie is a closeted homosexual, and disappointingly, that’s the way it remains: an implication. For a film so unflinching in its portrayal of a hate crime, its inability to do more or say out loud that a character is gay seems regressive and lacking in courage. At its three-hour runtime, there’s ample opportunity to explore a small town’s latent bigotry and the supernatural evil that thrives off of it, but other than a few throwaway scenes, there’s not much there. In the end, Richie’s homosexuality is simply just another fear for Pennywise to exploit.
“…It Chapter Two isn’t particularly scary. Hamstrung by its wonky pacing and fetch-quest structure, the film is predictable and over-reliant on hackneyed CGI.”
Speaking of fears, for a horror film, It Chapter Two isn’t particularly scary. Hamstrung by its wonky pacing and fetch-quest structure, the film is predictable and over-reliant on hackneyed CGI. Its predecessor employed many of the same tricks, but at least its streamlined storytelling and unpredictable novelty provided a handful of creepy-fun moments. Unfortunately, with Chapter Two, much of its scares have become tired rehashes of the first film, and whatever original moments remain are undermined by vanilla CG and baffling music cues. The bulk of the film revolves around the Ritual of Chüd, a Native American ceremony for exorcising Pennywise that involves gathering personal totems of importance for each of our Losers Club members. Foolishly severing the group chemistry that carries the narrative, the film sends each of the Losers on his or her own haunted adventure. The scares in each of these vignettes are maneuvered predictably, and it’s also here that It Chapter Two makes some baffling creative choices. In the most glaring example, Beverly finds herself back at her old house, where the creepy Mrs. Kersh now resides. The film’s final trailer included this truly terrifying scene almost in its entirety, but by the time of the theatrical release, its horrific and practical-effects driven punchline has been replaced by a computer-generated monstrosity. In another example, a mediocre jump-scare is inexplicably accompanied by the blaring of “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton - it’s a moment that is meant to be played for laughs, but instead it just sucks all of the air out of the scene.
It Chapter Two is an empty exercise wrapped up in pretty packaging. There’s plenty to like in its imagery, atmosphere, and performances, but there just isn’t enough substance to make the journey worthwhile. Grandiose, unwieldy, and overlong, there are some big - even progressive - ideas at play, it’s just a shame that it lacks the conviction to put them into proper motion. At the cusp of every narrative crossroads, there’s a faint impetus for this film to be more than a sum of its parts, but instead it always falls back to the words of Richie Tozier: “Let’s kill this fucking clown.” There’s a beating heart at the center of It Chapter Two, but you have to strain yourself to hear its rhythm.