With the release of Pet Sematary last April and Doctor Sleep hitting theaters this November, it’s safe to say that Stephen King onscreen adaptations are all the rage these days. However one chilling adaptation, IT Chapter One, left horror fans rife with anticipation for a terrifying followup since Fall of 2017. The long two year wait ended last week when what is arguably the most beloved story of King’s work concluded with IT Chapter Two lurking into theaters everywhere. Does the return of Pennywise, the sewer dwelling clown, and the band of friends who once tried to kill him live up to its predecessor? Or is it a sinking disappointment? Let’s break it down.
Minor flaws aside, It: Chapter One was an overall success clearing $100,000,000 opening weekend at the US boxoffice, earning 7.4/10 on IMDb and an 86% on Rottentomatoes. With a touch of the ’86 adaptation of King’s adventure novel, Stand By Me, the film depicted a sense of nostalgia as a group of outcasts form an unbreakable bond and become known as the Losers’ Club. Searching for the truth behind their town’s missing children while being terrorized by the neighborhood bullies, their newly formed ties of friendship would soon be tested. And their world becomes much more horrifying when Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard, Hemlock Grove series), a shape-shifting monster taking the form of a clown, stalks out of the shadowy sewers to feast on children’s flesh and feed on their fears.
With a perfect cast of kids who went on to win awards and garner nominations for their performance and a wonderful plot that unfolds with a mixture of scares and emotions, it’s easy to see how IT Chapter One received so much praise. And, despite overdone CGI that threatened to drag down the whole production, Skarsgard shines as Pennywise filling the giant clown shoes of Tim Curry who flawlessly portrayed the monster in the classic ’90s TV miniseries adaptation. With gritty moments and dark implications of character backstories, it was to be expected that IT Chapter Two would take us on an even darker, much more terrifying rollercoaster ride.
As anyone who is the least bit familiar with IT knows, this epic battle of good and evil is split between the childhood and adulthood of the Losers’ Club. While Chapter One entirely takes place when the Losers are children, Chapter Two centers around the Losers’ return as adults to fulfuill the oath they once made: if it returns then so would they.
Opening with an incredibly dark twist of brutality at the hands of hateful individuals, we’re shown that Derry, 27 years later, still has its share of bullies. Shortly after this shocking scene of a hate crime, Pennywise creeps along a riverbank to fish a fresh victim from the water. After blood is shed and the evil clown fills his hunger, he leaves a bloody message for the Losers to come home. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member of the Losers’ Club still residing in Derry, sees this message and calls his old friends. How he knows their cell phone numbers after all these years is lost on me. But there are bigger problems to address, which I’ll bring to light soon enough.
As each member of the Losers’ Club receive the call from their hometown, they begin to have a foggy rememberance of their forgotten childhood. Upon reuniting in Derry, the memory of their childhood nightmare slowly returns. And it isn’t long before the Losers’ past comes back for revenge. After receiving a disturbing message from Pennywise in the form of a terrifying hallucination, another blast from their past comes back to crash the Losers’ reunion. Just as Henry Bowers (Teach Grant: Tall Man, Almost Human) and his goons made the Losers’ lives a living hell during their childhood years, Pennywise assists him in escaping from a psychiatric hospital to wreak havok on the group of friends once again. However, Bowers is the least of the Losers’ problems as they set out to put an end to Pennywise once and for all.
Director Andy Muschietti (Mama, It Chapter One) returns for IT Chapter Two, however, he does not learn from part one’s biggest downfall. Rather than toning down the problematic CGI complained about by so many fans, he turns the graphics up from five to eleven. While CG is necessary for some of what the film tries to accomplish, it goes completely overboard giving a twisted cartoonish feel to some otherwise effective scenes.
Unfortunately, the flaws of IT Chapter Two do not end with overdone CGI. Fans of the novel will be excited to see many details encorporated into this 2 hour and 49 minute film including flashbacks from the Losers’ childhood not previously shown in the part one. However, some of the young cast changed so much since the first production that CGI was even used to de-age their faces. Although it is subtle to some audiences and painfully obvious to others, this should not have been an issue at all. Knowing a followup film would be made and aging could be an issue with an adolescent cast, production for the flashbacks involving the kids should have been done as soon as possible. Perhaps there were unexpected problems that delayed production. However, I find this difficult to believe with a project of this magnitude.
Along with the CGI issues, there is a problem with the character of Henry Bowers. While Grant gives an excellent performance as an adult, psychotic Bowers and Nicholas Hamilton (Captain Fantastic, The Dark Tower) is equally as impressive as the character’s younger self on the path of darkness, the bully doesn’t pose enough of a threat in part two. There are some gruesome moments that really captured the character’s insanity, but Bowers is meant to be a tool used by Pennywise against the Losers. However, the big bad bully simply seemed to be more of an annoyance than a henchman of a malevolant monster of fear.
As expected, part two seems to have a desire to take a darker turn. At times, it succeeds in its efforts. However, comedy is overused about as much as the CGI severely detracting from some seriously darker material. With the understanding that Losers’ Club member Richie Trashmouth Tozie (Bill Hader: Inside Out, Trainwreck) grew up to be a standup comedian, there is room for a little humor splashed into the story with good timing. However, nearly every line from Richie’s mouth is a joke making Chapter Two feel too close to a horror comedy for comfort.
Despite the pitfalls of It Chapter Two, there are redeeming qualities making this conclusive followup worthwhile. Casting could not have been more perfect. In every adult version of the Losers’ Club, you can see a resemblence in physicality as well as personality. Some of the Losers ended up in fitting professions. As previously mentioned, the trash talking jokester, Richie, became a comedian. The Loser Club member who always worried about sickness and cleanliness, Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone: Sinister), now works in risk assessment. However, some of the group simply could not outrun their past as Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain: Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar) finds herself at the hands of abuse just as she did when she was a child. And the egghead of the group, Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan: Beauty and the Beast), becomes wealthy and alone while Stanley Uris (Andy Bean: Power series) struggles to find his courage and Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy: Split) is still willing to run into danger alone.
Along with phenomenal performances by the entire cast including Bill Skarsgard’s return as Pennywise, the core of the story stands out saving this film from falling victim to its shortcomings. To truly appreciate the essence of IT Chapter Two, you have to see a deeper significance behind the individual characters, their stories and the story plot that unfolds. What is captured beneath the overdone CGI and overused comedy is a story of the pains of growing up. As we grow from children into adults pursuing careers, other interests and experience life in an enirely different way, we naturally forget parts of our childhood little by little. However much we forget, some things stick with us whether we realize it or not. I believe this is conveyed as each Loser revisits forgotten memories and dig up tokens from their past. A sense of pain and joy of rediscovering old memories, facing old fears and coming to terms with the past regrets is all shown through the Losers’ individual stories, reunion and final confrontation. With many nods to part one and a climactic battle between good and evil, IT Chapter Two manages to pull on the heartstrings with solemn revelations before the end credits roll.
Most people may find it shocking that I have never read Stephen King’s monstrous novel from which IT is adapted. Before everyone breaks out the fruits and vegetables to hurl in my direction, I have heard from many fellow horror fans that, while not perfect, the concluding onscreen chapter of IT captures a certain charm found in King’s pages. And, of course, horror fans will delight in the fact that the horror author, himself, makes a cameo this time around. While it’s inevitable that some horror fans will find this concluding chapter to be a disappointment, I’m sure many other fans will still discover the redeeming qualities that kept this one afloat for me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to read.