It Chapter Two (2019)
Two years ago, no one could have predicted just how big It (or It Chapter One as it’s now referred to) would be, the second live-action adaptation of Stephen King’s beloved 1986 novel becoming the highest-grossing horror film of all time, floating its way into the pop culture zeitgeist, as well as transforming the first weekend of September into a viable release date for modestly budget films. Directed by Argentine filmmaker Andy Muschietti, It managed to connect with worldwide audiences for a variety of different reasons. It could have been the Amblin-factor that pushed it over the edge, or the winning performances from the young Losers Club and their lively interactions, or the fact that these kids were behaving in a manner that was both realistic and relatable (we rarely see children swear in movies). Perhaps it was the intensely chilling performance by Bill Skarsgård, who portrayed the evil shape-shifting entity that disguises itself as creepy clown Pennywise, a role made famous by Tim Curry, having terrified a generation with his initial rendering of the Dancing Clown in the 1990 mini-series. Maybe it was just the popularity of King’s story, which is arguably one of his finest, or the adventure and heart at the center of the tale.
Either way, with the monumental success of It Chapter One and the promise of a second part on the horizon, the pressure was on to conclude the narrative in a manner that would appease fans of the first film along with genre enthusiasts, whilst satisfying those who’ve read King’s 1,138-page paperback — heck, It Chapter Two had a lot of hype to live up to and needed to tick a stack of boxes, so the pressure was on for the studio to deliver.
Written by returning scribe Gary Dauberman, It Chapter Two opens in 2016 with a heart-wrenching sequence that sees the drooling Pennywise re-emerge from his 27-year slumber in Derry, Maine, killing a young gay man, Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan), in front of his partner, Don Hagarty (Taylor Frey), after a bunch of homophobic ruffians assaults the couple at a local carnival. With the Losers Club having gone their separate ways (none staying in touch with one another), Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the local librarian and the only Loser to have remained in Derry, calls each of the members, who’ve been out of contact for three decades, with grim news, asking them to return home to fulfil a blood oath they made when they were kids. You see, although Mike has been obsessed with the painful and horrific events of his childhood (researching the history/ origin of the uncanny clown), the rest of the gang have strangely forgotten and since moved on.
With new actors taking on the roles of the now-aged Losers Club, nailing the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry of the young stars was always going to be a tough act to emulate, but fortunately the casting here is top-notch, even if it isn’t quite as strong as that of its predecessor. James McAvoy plays Bill Denbrough, a successful novelist/ screenwriter who, just like King, is frequently criticized for his sub-par endings; Jessica Chastain is Beverly Marsh, who, after being assaulted by her father as a child, finds herself in an abusive marriage; Bill Hader steps into the shoes of wise-cracking Richie Tozier, now a stand-up comedian living in Los Angeles; James Ransone portrays hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak, who works as a risk assessor in New York City, married to a woman just as controlling and insufferable as his mother; chubby Ben Hanscom has morphed into the much slimmer Jay Ryan, having become some sort of an architect; and Andy Bean plays the quiet Stanley Uris, who lives a peaceful life as a happily married accountant.
After the Losers Club reunite at an oriental restaurant (one of the film’s stand-out sequences), they’re reminded of Pennywise and the horrors that haunted them as children. With Mike jogging his friends’ memories of the promise they made to destroy the creature if ‘it’ was ever to return from its subterranean slumber, the Losers set off on individual quests to recover trinkets from their youth, which would reignite the traumas they’ve blocked out and help them confront the truth about themselves in order to overthrow the twisted entity for once and for all. Pennywise, however, has other plans, frothing at the mouth for another opportunity to taunt the adult Losers, using their childhood guilt, shame and pain to psychologically torment the team and do away with ‘em for good.
Running for a whopping 169 minutes (although I didn’t really feel the length), It Chapter Two, just like the novel on which it’s based, spends the bulk of its run time cutting from past to present (earnest youthfulness contrasted against the heaviness of adulthood) as each of the Losers takes a trip down memory lane, with Pennywise standing in as a physical manifestation of the grownups’ childhood traumas. While certain folk might complain that the film isn’t overly scary, and features way too much CGI (a bit where a demonized version of the Paul Bunyan statue attacks Richie might be too much for some), It Chapter Two aims to be more fantastical than frightening, with Muschietti using the former to explore the human condition and the impacts that our childhood ordeals can have on us as adults.
But, at its core, this is still a horror picture, so we get buckets of blood, some rather unsettling confrontations, and a slew of disgusting ghouls — a nod to John Carpenter’s ’82 classic The Thing, and a zombified version of Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague) are clear highlights — Muschietti stepping things up when it comes to re-visiting the Losers’ fears, our protagonists, much like the audience, never quite sure what’s real and what’s imagined.
In terms of connectivity, moviemakers have done a commendable job in recapturing the look, feel and tone of the initial chapter, while throwing in a couple of homages for good measure — there’s even a subtle tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), which itself is an adaptation of King’s ’77 book — the film remaining weird and wacky throughout — the nutty climax, where the Losers do battle against a ginormous white-faced spider-clown in its underground lair might be the strangest thing you’ll see at the multiplex all year.
While the longer running time makes it feel as though we get less Pennywise in this second go-around, Bill Skarsgård, once again, does an amazing job as the now-iconic boogieman, who’s nastier than ever here — a scene where he lures a young girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to her doom under the bleachers is creepy AF — the talented Swede embodying (and quite frankly becoming) the prosthetic-laden spook in the same way that Heath Ledger made the Joker his own — Skarsgård remains menacing as hell, and his off-skew eyes are still the stuff of nightmares. Pennywise’s contorted manifestations are more elaborate this time, too, one of my faves being a monstrous old hag/ Mrs. Kersh (Joan Gregson) whom Bev confronts when returning to her childhood home.
As you’ve probably already heard, Bill Hader is the clear cast stand out, the ex-Saturday Night Live star selling the comedy and drama of his multi-layered role (Hader knocks this thing out of the park) — it helps that his character is given the strongest arc in the entire film. Honestly, all of the performers do a tremendous job in imitating the distinct personalities and mannerisms of their child counterparts, the A+ cast bringing the film’s emotional core to life. My only minor gripe is the fact that James McAvoy, Split (2016), takes too much of a back seat as the leader of the gang, who’s still haunted by the death of his brother Georgie. The young cast of Chapter One all return for flashbacks as well (Jaeden Martell/ Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff) some de-aged with CGI and voice enhanced with ADR to retain their youthfulness — kids grow up fast.
It’s also worth mentioning Teach Grant, The Tall Man (2012), who plays the grownup version of Henry Bowers (the bully who terrorized the Losers as kids), now locked up in an insane asylum before being set free by Pennywise to do some of his dirty work. Similar to the late Stan Lee, Stephen King also shows up in a scene-stealing cameo as a pawnshop owner who sells Bill his old bike back — who knew he was such a great actor! Oh, and lastly, look out for cameos from director Andy Muschietti and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich.
I’m sure there’ll be many debates over which is the more superior chapter, but, at the end of the day, while the kids probably made the original outing more endearing, both parts work as a cohesive whole and should really be viewed as one, sort of like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2 or The Lord of the Rings movies; Andy Muschietti has already spoken about putting together some sort of It supercut, and I’d be more than keen to re-visit this funhouse if it were ever to be released. A bigger, much more mature film about memories, friendship and those bonds that can’t be broken, It Chapter Two fully succeeds as a fitting and faithful conclusion to one of this era’s most talked about horror films — and is certain to float to the top of this year’s box-office!
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie