Review of “IT Chapter 2”

The Losers Club has returned to Derry, but it isn’t a happy reunion. All but one of the childhood friends has moved away in the 27 years since they defeated the demon clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) works in Derry and has been keeping an eye out for any strange murders. As the Derry Carnival is starting, a young gay man is beaten by local youths and thrown off a bridge into the river. Pennywise pulls the man out of the river and bites out his heart. Body parts of the young man are found, and Mike hears of the death on the police scanner. When he investigates the scene, he knows Pennywise is back. Mike contacts the rest of the Losers: Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) has all moved away and found successful careers and variously successful relationships. Also, they’ve all mostly forgotten their lives in Derry. Mike contacts each of them and they all return to their childhood home, except for Stanley. Mike explains Pennywise is back, but he has a plan to kill the clown once and for all. Mike spent time with a local Native American tribe and believes he has learned enough of their magic to kill Pennywise. The rest of the gang is skeptical and most plan on leaving, but Mike convinces Bill the plan will work and their experiences since returning to Derry leads them to believe they must try.

“IT Chapter 2” was one of my most anticipated films. I loved “IT Chapter 1” and was looking forward to diving into what promised to be a carnival haunted house full of scares and suspense, plus some humor, as the adult versions of the Losers Club would likely mirror their childhood counterparts to a great degree. Director Andy Muschietti crafted a winning formula in the first film, set box office records for a horror film and was deeper than most scary movies with believable relationships between believable characters. Perhaps my expectations were too high for the sequel, as “IT Chapter Two” isn’t the kind of carnival ride I was hoping for.

Translating a dense work like a Stephen King novel in a movie script must be a daunting task. King is not known for his economical prose. “IT” also contains a sex scene between the Losers that would have been difficult to put on screen in a form audiences wouldn’t find offensive. As with all book-to-screen adaptations, material must be cut, combined and truncated to fit within a film narrative. While this was successfully done in the first film, apparently meeting with approval from King himself, the second film may have tried too hard to avoid cutting material thought too important to be left out. “IT Chapter 2” suffers from having too much material to choose from.

The film moves at a leisurely pace, never feeling like it was in any hurry to get from one Pennywise kill to another. While starting with a bang, the movie then takes its time by reintroducing us to the adult versions of the Losers Club. Each is allowed the time to establish how much of their childhood character remains and all but one is instantly recognizable. The adult Ben Hanscom is tall and buff and easily speaks his mind to those in power. He’s a successful architect with six-pack abs. Otherwise, all the Losers maintained the characteristics of their youth. Under pressure, Bill still stutters, Eddie is still a hypochondriac with a wife similar to his mother, Beverly has married an abuse man similar to her father, Richie still has a smart mouth that makes him a hit as a standup comic, Mike is stoic and smart, working in the library in Derry, and Stanley is still shy and frightened of almost everything. These reintroductions take a while and are somewhat duplicated by a scene where they meet for the first time back in Derry at a Chinese restaurant. Between this and the parts of the movie where they go looking for totems from their past to sacrifice in a ritual that may lead to Pennywise’ demise, the movie spends a great deal of time showing us who these people are, and were, as there are flashbacks to when they were kids. Much of this feels redundant, as we’ve seen the first movie and know these kids as well as we ever will. Since none of them seem to have grown much emotionally, spending a great deal of time showing us who they are now is a waste.

These long stretches of character time are broken up by appearances from Pennywise and the monstrous forms he assumes. He becomes a giant statue of Paul Bunyon, a gangly old naked witch, a leper, Bill’s dead brother Georgie, and the decaying corpse of Patrick Hockstetter, a victim from the first film. These moments are the best parts of the film as we see the Losers Club facing their fears and usually screaming and running away. I realize a horror movie must have the quiet times to set up the scares, however, “IT Chapter 2” takes so much quiet time that the scary parts feel like they don’t last long enough to make it worth the wait.

Much like the first film, “IT Chapter 2” isn’t that scary. The first film did a great job of building tension and dread even if the monster moments weren’t that shocking. Perhaps knowing what was coming (the appearance of Pennywise and its other forms) took the edge off the scares. Maybe they weren’t set up as well as the first film. The only time I was truly frightened was when Beverly went back to her father’s apartment to retrieve the postcard with Ben’s love poem. She had to pry off a baseboard and some large cockroaches scurried out. That moment made me jump. Otherwise, “IT Chapter 2” lacks any significant scary moments.

Some of the CGI monsters in the film aren’t very good. The old naked witch is clearly animated, along with a monster that faces off with Eddie in the basement of a pharmacy. It’s like they didn’t have time to finish the CGI to make it look the best they could. Maybe they didn’t think they needed to put the finishing touches on the texture of the skin or the oozing of the rotting flesh to get the point across. I knew what I was looking at, but also knew it looked fake.

Finally, and I won’t spoil anything, the ending seemed silly. They are battling an immortal enemy and the way they face off against it was similar to a playground fight. It left me feeling I’d wasted my 2 hours and 45 minutes and also threw away the goodwill from the first film. As I’ve gained more distance from the movie, I’m writing this more than 24 hours since I walked out of the theater, I’m discovering more aspects of the film I find lacking.

“IT Chapter 2” is rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material. We see a gay couple beaten up with one thrown off a bridge into a river. Pennywise mouth grows rows of sharp teeth that kill three people on screen, with one victim exploding in a spray of blood. There are two stabbings, one in the chest and one in the face, and a hatchet is buried in one person’s head. One person is buried alive and another is locked in a bathroom flooding with blood. A character is impaled with a giant claw. Pennywise, the form of a child is drowned then, in another form, shot in the head. The crude sexual material is the insults hurled between Eddie and Richie. Foul language is common.

A bright spot in the film is the performance of Bill Hader as adult Richie Tozier. Hader is the expletive-filled voice of reason amongst the Losers. He is the everyman that says what everyone else is too polite to say. Hader and James Ransone (adult Eddie) play off each other well and is the closest thing we have to the energy and memory of the first film. Sadly, those two and Skarsgard’s Pennywise are all that will remind you of “IT Chapter 1.” The rest of the film is otherwise a lifeless slog that squanders a very good cast and a terrific villain.

In my video review I gave the film three stars but, in a first, “IT Chapter 2” is now downgraded to two stars. It is a disappointment.

Two new films open this week. One is an arthouse mystery while the other features Jennifer Lopez as a stripper. I wonder which one I’ll see. Whichever, I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Goldfinch—

Hustlers—

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