In my review for the first part of the new adaptation of the Stephen King novel It, I opened with praise for the way the movie tapped into 30-something nostalgia for the late 1980s. There’s been a lot written recently about the entertainment industry’s current cycle of shamelessly repackaging old content because people can’t get enough of reliving their youth. We’ll shell out big bucks to have our childhood brought to life again. The first chapter in the It saga, released in 2017 and set primarily in 1989, played like a hard-R rated version of Stranger Things.
It: Chapter Two doesn’t have that well of nostalgia from which to draw. I won’t call that a flaw of the film. It would have been much worse if writer Gary Dauberman and director Andy Muschietti had forced 30-year-old references into this part of the story, which is set in 2016. As it is, there are just a handful of flashback scenes in Chapter Two that pepper some of that nostalgia throughout the movie.
So, with (most of) the nostalgia gone from this part of the story, what’s left? The answer is a movie that is, for the most part, consistent with its predecessor in creepy tone and jump-scare fun. Chapter Two also has some of the same problems as the first part, namely that we are asked to believe Pennywise the Clown is a merciless killer, except when it comes to our heroes. Whenever his target is one of our beloved Losers Club, Pennywise is suddenly very bad at his job. Chapter Two is also interminably long at 169 minutes, with a structure that feels more like a video game than a movie.
After 27 years of dormancy, the creature Pennywise is killing in the town of Derry again. Mike Hanlon, the only member of the Losers Club still in town, takes notice and contacts Beverly, Bill, Richie, Ben, Eddie, and Stanley to remind them of the promise they all made to return to Derry should Pennywise ever come back.
The first act of the film covers Mike making his phone calls to the various members of the Losers Club. We see what kind of adults the children from Chapter One have become. Some are a complete surprise. The overweight and terminally shy Ben has become a physically fit, successful architect. Some make perfect sense, like wiseass Richie, who has become, naturally, a stand-up comic.
These introductions, though, happen in such rapid succession that when the Losers Club gets back together, we don’t feel the full weight of their reconnection. The first reunion takes place at a Chinese restaurant. The rapport of the actors makes their banter believable and enjoyable, but it would have been more effective if Dauberman and Muschietti had built it up more.
That seems like an odd criticism for a movie that clocks in at two hours and 49 minutes. Most of that runtime, however, is devoted to the Losers Club arming themselves for the ultimate showdown with Pennywise. How they – and we – learn about what they need to defeat Pennywise is the most disappointing aspect of the movie.
In a repugnant example of tired racial stereotyping, It: Chapter Two delves into the idea of the noble savage. Mike tells Bill that he learned of Pennywise’s origins when he participated in a drug-enhanced ceremony with the Shakopeewa tribe – please forgive me, I know this is not spelled correctly, but after much searching, I could not confirm the name given in the movie. Mike also discovers that Pennywise can be vanquished through something called the Ritual of Chüd. In an ironic twist on the popularity of nostalgia in our entertainment, each member of the ritual must have an artifact from their past in order to perform it.
I’m sure you see where this is going. An excruciating amount of time, the biggest chunk of the movie, is devoted to each member of the Losers Club splitting up to retrieve their artifact. It’s like they are characters in a video game who must quest for certain items before the final battle. As they do so, Pennywise shows up to scare the bejesus out of them – and us – but he’s never quite able to actually kill them.
Just like the first movie in the saga, it’s a fun throwback to horror films of the 80s and 90s where the baddie chases the hero around for 90 minutes. It produces a lot of scares, but the stakes are missing because we’re never under the impression that our heroes are ever in any real danger.
Dauberman also winks at us and, seemingly, the preposterousness of the film’s ending through the character of Bill. The defacto leader of the Losers Club back in 1987, as an adult, Bill is a successful novelist. In the opening scenes of Chapter Two, Bill is working as the screenwriter on a movie adaptation of one of his novels.
He’s on set and having trouble coming up with an appropriate ending for the movie. His actress wife, who is staring in the movie, tells him that all his endings are bad. The scene even comes with an inexplicable cameo from real-life director Peter Bogdanovich, who plays the director of the movie-within-a-movie, reassuring Bill in his creative choices.
Bill’s bad endings are referenced throughout the movie, so when It: Chapter Two’s own climax proves silly – the message seems to be the most effective way to deal with a bully is by bullying him – it feels like a fait accompli.
Chapter Two does manage to handle other themes with a softer touch. The LGBTQ sexuality of one member of the Losers Club is a welcome inclusive change from the 1990 television miniseries and, as far as I know, the book, and it’s treated with care and empathy.
If you were a fan of the first film, you’ll most likely be fan of this one. The protracted length and silly ending aside, It: Chapter Two’s quality is about on par with that of the first one. Muschietti sets a spooky tone throughout, and I was splendidly creeped out any time Bill Skarsgård popped up on screen as killer clown Pennywise. It’s a fun way to spend almost two hours at the movies; the only problem is that It: Chapter Two goes on for almost three.
Why it got 3 stars:
- I’m not going to lie to you. I think a lot of the reason I liked this, even as nominally as I did, is because of the nostalgia factor from the 1990 miniseries. The plot is a bit of a mess, it feels about 12 hours long, and the way they appropriate indigenous peoples is gross. Still, the movie is quite fun in parts, and the character of Pennywise, and Bill Skarsgård’s performance, is chilling.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- There are a few really inventive transitions in the movie. The one that stood out the most starts as a shot of the night sky and morphs into puzzle pieces that a character is putting together.
- There is an interesting theme (I’m assuming from the book, since the miniseries also deals with it) of memory and forgetting painful things that runs throughout It. Dauberman never fully explored it as much as I wanted, but it was there.
- I almost hate to give it praise, since it directly deals with the indigenous peoples issue, but the drug-trip scene in the movie is really cleverly realized by Muschietti. I’m a sucker for this type of sequence, and the one in It: Chapter Two is a good one.
- The movie makes a shift towards comedy in the last hour or so (this is signaled by a ridiculous song cue in one scene) that really undercuts the horror. I’m not sure what the logic was there, but it took something away from the creepy vibe.
Close encounters with people in movie theaters:
- Not a great audience for this one. The person next to me had a monumental mix up with his food order. He asked for a refill on his drink on the order card he filled out and his server brought out another helping of his entire order. It was frustrating only because I was trying to watch a movie while this was going on. Otherwise, it was hilarious. Someone also refused to put their damn phone on silent, so every five minutes or so, there was a text notification sound. It was the iPhone alert that sounds like the single peal of a small bell. Hell is other people.