Review: IT: Chapter 2

By: Heather Seebach

First, a little background information....

I was never a fan of the IT mini-series and could not give two shits about Pennywise. But two years ago, I fell head-over-heels in love with Andy Muschietti's IT. I saw it five times in the cinema and countless times since. My home is littered with Pennywise memorabilia. I scared small children on Halloween 2017 when I dressed up as Pennywise. I even visited Port Hope, Ontario (a.k.a. Derry, Maine) to recreate my favorite moments. I am not writing all this as a bizarre humble-brag or an admission of what a nerdy loser I am. No, I am telling you this to give you an idea of my head space going into IT: Chapter 2. Needless to say, my expectations and standards were through the roof. For me, the bar had been set very high by the first chapter. 

That intense love of the first film is what made my initial reaction to Chapter 2 all the more heartbreaking. While I generally try not to let expectations sway my feelings about a film, it was inevitable in this case. I wanted nothing short of a film as perfect as IT. Naturally, the primary emotion I felt after seeing Chapter 2 was disappointment. And clocking in at a hefty 3 hours in length, there was a lot to unpack and absorb. I quickly forgot the things I liked about it and get hung up on the stuff I did not like (mostly toward the film's end).  So I kept quiet about my thoughts - partly because of my own heartache and also to not dissuade anyone from seeing it - until I could watch it again. People obviously know I am a big fan so I deliberately dodged "What did you think?" as often as I reasonably could. I felt that I was not thinking without bias at that point.

Yesterday, I gave the film a second viewing (in IMAX, this time) and some of that bitterness definitely melted away. Granted, there are still a bunch of things I do not like - some I outright hate. It is not on par with its predecessor but, the second time around, I stopped needing it to be. I was able to relax a bit and enjoy what worked. And now, a week after my initial viewing, I feel I can give a proper review with the right head space....


Much like the 1990 IT mini-series, Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's novel breaks the story into roughly two sections: the Losers Club as children, and the Losers Club as adults. So this second chapter focuses on the grown-ups, now 27 years after the events of the first film. It does, however, also include some flashbacks to the children that fateful summer in Derry. Mike Hanlon, still living in the town almost three decades later, is forced to call the gang back into action because Pennywise has returned. Most of them have forgotten all about the clown, the murders, and the house on Neibolt Street since they moved away. Still, they know they have to return as per the blood promise they made as children in the summer of 1989.

The nature of IT: Chapter 2's story immediately puts it at a disadvantage compared to its predecessor. It has the ambitious task of introducing the adult versions of the Losers Club, recapping missing moments from the summer of '89, showing the origins of Pennywise, and explaining the ancient ritual needed to kill a cosmic entity. Needless to say, character development went right out the window. The first chapter was able to take its time, letting the audience get to know the kids and their respective traumas, while also getting a feel for the looming darkness over Derry itself. In Chapter 2, sure, these are still the same characters but they are completely different people since 27 years ago (literally and figuratively). Ideally, the film would have spent more time exploring their post-Derry lives just as the novel does, but of course time is a limiting factor. The final product is already a bloated 3 hours. There are definitely some other moments that could have been dropped to free space for backstory.

The other advantage that Chapter 1 had was an incredibly charming cast who truly felt like a bonded group. Perhaps the real-life bonding of the young actors played a role in that. When IT: Chapter 2 was announced, my first thought was, "I hope the kids are in it!" In this installment, the casting is amazing, especially the physically likenesses to the children. They are all good actors and most make a real effort to mirror the mannerisms of their young counterparts. There is a great scene early in the film where the Losers Club reunite at a Chinese restaurant and their chemistry is fantastic. Then the film almost immediately separates them again, which is disappointing. That same bond just is not there, being only loosely reinforced by the flashbacks to Chapter 1.

The adult cast did their best, but the writing of their characters was limited. Their roles can be summed up pretty succinctly: the love interest; the madman; the guilty one; the one with a crush; the scared one; and the funny one. James McAvoy is a brilliant actor but he is wasted as Bill. Jessica Chastain, another brilliant actor, feels mostly delegated to the tip of a Bill-Ben love triangle. Richie (Bill Hader) definitely gets the bulk of the good material, both humorous and emotional. His character arc is great, even if it's the only arc anyone gets. James Ransone is another stand-out, if only for how perfectly he captures the manic Eddie. Everyone else is just..there. Ironically, the Loser with the least screen time (name withheld for spoilers) gets some of the most emotional development.

The real MVPs of this chapter are the villains. Bill Skarsgard brings the creepiness yet again as Pennywise, this time with some added neediness (the poor dear just wants someone to play with him). The sequel also sees the return of bully Henry Bowers (now played by Teach Grant) and a zombie friend with whom he cruises the town. As the nutty Bowers, Grant is great; I only wish we got more of him. His character is woefully underused. As for Pennywise's many changing forms, some of the original monsters make return appearances. There is one new creature in the sequel that really does not work for me (hint: boobies) but a few that are great (including a huge reference to an 80s horror classic). Much like with the first film, there will inevitably be CGI complaints. They are somewhat more justified this time around, as there is more genuine CGI, but that is not to say there aren't some solid practical FX, too. In fact, the one glaring digital misstep in Chapter 1 (during the opening Georgie scene) is much improved this time around. They nailed the Pennywise bite for round two. The worst instance of digital FX in the film is unfortunately unavoidable: the de-aging of the young actors. Puberty is a bitch; what can you do?

Probably the thing that bothered me more than anything else in Chapter 2 was some of the dialogue choices, especially in the second half. The film begins to relentlessly reference its predecessor, which is as annoying as it is unnecessary. Richie's quips are effective most of the time but when he's constantly doing it (instead of seeming remotely scared) during a terrifying scene, it pulls the viewer right out of it. Also, remember how forced it seemed when Pennywise said "beep, beep, Richie" in the first film, without having established any context for it? Well, Chapter 2 manages to do that again, only much worse.

It is very easy to harp on the negatives but IT: Chapter 2 does a lot right, too. The infamous Adrian Mellon scene is just as brutal and horrifying as it was meant to be. It makes for uncomfortable viewing because it is supposed to. Watching Pennywise torment each of the Losers individually again was scary and fun, just as it was in the first film. There is a bit of redundancy (as the characters are reliving their childhood fears) but enough new material to keep it interesting.

One recurring joke in the film is that Bill, now a horror writer, is incapable of writing good endings. This is a playful dig at Stephen King who has been accused of the same. The ending of IT, in particular, has long divided fans, be it the novel or the miniseries. Chapter 2's ending will be no different in how it divides viewers. I liked the ending...until I didn't. That is all I will say about that.

Give the Chapter 2 trailers another look sometime and you will notice missing scenes. It is no secret that footage ended up on the cutting room floor, likely due to time constraints. The final product often feels disjointed and meandering, and one has to wonder how much of that is due to those cuts. For this reason, I eagerly welcome the proposed "supercut" Muschietti has teased. Six hours, seven hours, whatever, I am all in! King's 1153-page novel has always been too big for most adaptations. It definitely could not be captured in a 3-hour ABC miniseries, and even this 5.5-hour epic (albeit a marked improvement) still could not completely do it justice. Many of the cosmic elements were left out (some would argue that is for the best), but mostly I would like to see more character development and a more cohesive story overall. And Andy, if you're listening, please cut some of those cringey lines of dialogue and let's pretend it never happened, okay?

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