2019’s run of films with the audacity to claim in the credits that an editor worked on them continues with the highly anticipated IT: Chapter Two, the sequel to Stranger Things cash-in and sometime adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel: 2017’s IT (supposedly now IT: Chapter One, in the same revisionist titling convention as has plagued the John Wick series too).
Chapter Two sees the Losers’ Club return to their hometown of Derry, Maine, 27 years after defeating Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise in their early teens. After witnessing the aftermath of a grisly incident involving some small-town bigots, a gay couple and Pennywise’s voracious appetite, Loser Mike Hanlon, who stayed behind in Derry after the other Losers moved on, contacts the group and reminds them of the pact made back in September 1989: if It ever comes back, they’ll come back too.
Sure enough, the gang reunite for one more showdown with It, all while piecing together and coming to terms with the traumas inflicted on them in their younger years by Pennywise and the Derry townsfolk.
There’s a huge amount going on from the start of IT: Chapter Two, and while the film’s hefty running time is less of an issue than it could have been, there’s still far more story and backstory than was really necessary. Writer Gary Dauberman has admittedly made decent work adapting King’s hefty novel across these two movies, but the final product feels like Dauberman and director Andy Muschietti were perhaps reluctant to trim the fat from the original story.
There’s already been a fair amount of discussion about the material which did make the cut – namely the aforementioned grisly opening – and it’s easy to see why. The attack and subsequent murder of Adrian Mellon and his boyfriend is a harrowing part of King’s novel, and emphasises the true human horror of Derry, which unlike It and Pennywise, doesn’t only surface every 27 years. In the film though, the homophobic assault removes any hint of humanity, and the whole sequence feels like a cheap, unpleasant and frankly offensive version of King’s response to a real-life tragedy.
More care seems to have been taken with the portrayal of the film’s sole lead female character. Jessica Chastain, who plays modern day Beverly Marsh, has been unequivocal about where she stands on on-screen portrayals of abuse in other pop culture touchstones, and the film goes to the effort of avoiding the trap of letting Bev’s abuse define her character.
Instead though, the film decides to focus on Beverly as one third of a love triangle between two of the Losers, so it’s not all perfect. Granted, the dynamic is lifted from the novel, but the film’s writer forgot to give Beverly any agency in the adaptation, and so Chastain ends up feeling somewhat wasted as a result.
The rest of the Losers are given a decent enough portrayal, and the standouts are Bill Hader’s take on the older Richie and James Ransone as Eddie. Ransone’s performance especially is so close to what Jack Dylan Grazer achieved as the younger Eddie Kaspbrak, that my mind totally accepted both actors as the same character at two points in time.
There’s been a lot made over the years about the relationship between Richie and Eddie, and the film is more than happy to explore their dynamic. As the Losers get closer to Derry and their memories of the town return, Hader’s evocation of Richie’s internal conflict over how he identifies, and how he presents that to the world, is by far and away the most interesting line of character development among the members of The Losers’ Club for the entirety of IT: Chapter Two‘s 170 minute running time.
I mentioned before that the film’s length isn’t as much of an issue as it could have been, but there are still some problems as a result of making a film that still manages to be longer than Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. The film is at its core a horror film, and the central figure of Pennywise is undoubtedly creepy – solely as a result of Bill Skarsgård’s fantastic performance as the demonic dancing clown, but that horror simply can’t be sustained over a film that runs nearly 3 hours long. The film’s reliance on jump-scares and overt references to older, better horrors render Chapter Two‘s efforts at spine tingling ultimately shallow and forgettable.
That said, as the film finally wound down, I’d be lying if the resolutions for IT‘s central band of misfits didn’t touch me on some emotional level, and it did that far more so than the first chapter’s ending.
In the last weekend of August, I was incredibly lucky to get a ticket to IT Chapter Two: The Vaults Experience in London. It was a 45 minute horror maze which visited the settings of the film’s major horror set pieces, and not only did the experience scare me, but it was one that I can remember vividly after more than a week, and will no doubt be able to cast my mind back to much further on in time. It’s just a shame that IT: Chapter Two the film can’t boast the same effect on me.