Review: “It Chapter Two”
When the first installment of It concluded with a final subtitle saying “Chapter One”, many in the crowd cheered at the thought of a sequel. The newest adaptation of Stephen King’s mammoth novel became the most successful horror film of all time when it debuted in 2017, making buckets of money to match the buckets of blood on screen. Of course, outside of the financials, a sequel was not surprising since the first film only adapted the childhood-based chapters of the book. It interspersed interchanging timelines to create a parallel story of the Losers Club fighting evil both as children and adults. A sequel based on the adult sections of the book was therefore only natural.
What’s immediately apparent from It Chapter Two is that there is a clear reason that King flipped back and forth between the adult and children timelines in the novel. The adult sections separated from the other part of the story play out in a rote, repetitive manner devoid of the strong emotional character development that made the original novel so compelling. That’s not to say there are no characters here, as the script does give the Losers Club arcs and allows them to reach some form of catharsis, as in the book. But it lacks the impact of the book because the film is forced to drown itself in exposition in order to tell its story. The opening thirty minutes of the film are used to recap where each member of the Loser Club has gone in life. Director Andrés Muschietti does his best to make it move along, but there’s no denying it drags and feels formulaic. This pace is repeated later in the film when each character has to flash back to their childhood as they search for a totem in Derry. Because the book rotates the children and adult scenes, the storytelling builds on itself in an interesting way. Here, the pace drags.
The cast’s performances are mixed. Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy are standouts and do a great job of feeling like adult versions of the child characters. However, the performances of Bill Hader and James Ransone, while entertaining at times, highlight the film’s bizarre choice to aim for overt comedy. While neither installment has been particularly horrifying, the first film at least put you in the shoes of the children and helped capture their fear. Chapter Two has Hader and Ransone constantly quipping, thus undercutting all the tension in multiple scenes. It creates a strange mixed tone, and one of the most awkward consequences is when music plays for five seconds for comedic effect and then abruptly cuts off. That anyone in the editing room thought this was a good choice is mind-boggling. It honestly feels like something that was accidentally left in the final cut.
There are some creepy sequences, and Muschietti shows he knows to make a solidly scary scene. That the film doesn’t lean into this talent is just strange. Bill Skarsgård is delightfully unnerving as Pennywise, the main face of It, and he leaves you wanting more. The film relies too much on jump scares, as did the first entry, but there are a few moments of genuinely atmospheric fear. Yet the film doesn’t embrace the dark foreboding tone of the book, and it lacks the sting it ought to have.
A running joke throughout Chapter Two is about how the author character (because there’s always at least one in a King story) can’t write a good ending. This is likely intended as a jab at the supposedly unfilmable ending of the novel, which features a cosmic battle of the wills, and the movie opts for a slightly different ending while still trying to incorporate some of King’s cosmology. Unfortunately, this ending doesn’t feel much better and it fails to attain that epic feeling that the two hour and fifty minute runtime tries to create. Endings are tough, and It Chapter Two doesn’t entirely fail; it’s not a bad film. But perhaps burdened by expectations, there is no way this could have lived up to the conciseness of the first part. If anything, hopefully this displays the need to maintain the interchanging timelines if and when It is adapted in the future.