“Want your boat, Georgie?”
by Jeff Bowles
When the first big screen adaptation of Steven King’s It hit theaters two years ago, it took the world by storm. Audiences found it incredibly unnerving, disturbing, and twisted. In other words, it was everything fans of the most important horror writer of the 20th century (and maybe even the 21st century) could want. Part one of the It saga is a coming of age story, a love letter to the kinds of urban legends that have haunted the young and the young-at-heart for generations. I mean for cripes sake, a killer clown? Nightmare fuel, right? And one considered top-notch by critics and movie-goers alike. Too bad that 2017 modern classic was only half the story.
It Chapter Two wastes no time catching up with the heroes of the first movie, the Losers Club, the same rowdy bunch of kids who stopped that pesky, evil-as-all-hell clown (or whatever he is) before his spree of terror and death could claim one more fragile life in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The Losers are all adults now, and though they’ve forgotten a surprising amount of their battle with the eponymous monster, most of them, after a fashion, choose to remember and honor the oath they took together to return to Derry if and when the nightmare began again.
That’s the problem with evil immortal-monster-alien-clown-shapeshifter thingies. They just don’t take no for an answer. The cast of Chapter Two is suitably star-studded. Jessica Chastain plays the adult Beverly, who possibly had the most to deal with in the first film, mostly due to an abusive father. She’s still suffering at the hands of an abysmally abusive man, her husband, which is sad, though annoyingly ham-fisted in the ludicrous fashion with which the guy goes from zero-to-full-on-rage without any believable provocation. Stephen King has never been known for subtlety, and It Chapter Two suffers from it. Not that the movie’s problems begin and end with the author.
Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Eddie (James Ransone) join Beverly back in Derry twenty-seven years after the events of movie one, each of them having lived surprisingly full lives. Well, all except for Mike, who’s spent the last three decades charting, following, and studying the supernatural killer. One of the Losers, Stan (Andy Bean), chooses to end his own life rather than set foot in that town again, which makes for a chilling prologue to the events that follow.
The first real set-piece of the movie takes place at the fan-favorite Chinese restaurant, a scene even the 1990 made-for-TV It nailed. It’s more adult and much creepier this time, and the dialog flows about as well as the original banter Steven King committed to the page. Then of course there’s the main event, the monster himself, played once again by Bill Skarsgard. Holly cannoli, this guy is freaky. Unfortunately, director Andy Muschietti makes the mistake of giving us less of him. In fact, less is the watchword for the entire exercise.
It Chapter Two is bloated and water-logged, just like that one guy It killed in … never mind. The only significant moments of cogency and relatability occur in flashbacks to the Losers as kids. These brief indulgences serve to remind us just how comparatively focused part one was, and we can’t help but feel a slight twinge of nostalgia for a movie that’s only two years old.
The cast does a great job exploring their characters’ unique personalities and allowing us to feel true terror when the big moments arise. But the film seems far too interested in pondering and extolling the concept rather than pushing it forward. Stephen King may be one of the most beloved pop-fiction writers of all time, but a second-parter built on what amounts to little more than a scavenger hunt? Yee-ikes. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Stand, Carrie, The Shining, and many others, as much as the next guy. Some of those books used long-windedness to their advantage. I hear they’re adapting The Stand next. Fingers crossed, all you kooky King nuts.
The climax of the film is impressive if confounding. By the time we get there, it’s become apparent the It saga has suffered from the same disjointed sequel-manufacturing other literary adaptations indulged in (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight, I’m looking at you). Funnily enough, Marvel Studios’ big Avengers two-parter—released in 2018 and 2019, respectively—managed the trick in a much neater fashion, but then, those movies are actually two separate stories blended into one, whereas the It saga feels like, well, a nicely-structured opener and an obligatory half-waisted capstone.
Which isn’t to say It Chapter Two doesn’t have its moments. With high production values, an excellent cast, and a willingness to scare no matter what it takes, the movie can’t help but hit the mark more often than it misses. It’s just that the scenario doesn’t get as much breathing room this time. Scratch that. The problem is the scenario gets far too much breathing room.
Writing to Be Read gives It Chapter Two a six out of ten.
Not a truly poor nor truly serviceable adaptation, but who knows? Maybe when you binge both movies together, Chapter Two feels more satisfying. Is it possible a freakish clown lured us all down into his favorite storm sewer and made a nice, toothy snack of our expectations? I guess it could be worse. We could’ve buried a beloved dog in a pet cemetery, rented out a room at a haunted Colorado hotel, or engaged in interstate mayhem with a possessed car. Ooph. What a way to make a living.
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