“We Are What We Wish We Could Forget”
“Let’s Kill this Fucking Clown”
Let’s get this out of the way right up front. Yes, It Chapter Two is nearly three hours long. Did it feel like it? Not in the least. Because my phone was turned off during the press screening I attended on Tuesday evening, I had no sense of the passage of time, but I never felt the movie dragged. Not for a moment. I saw it on an IMAX screen, the first time I’ve seen anything on a screen that big in many years. It’s hard to say if it’s worth the premium, but the experience felt immersive to me.
The movie is R-rated, with good reason. It’s pretty darned scary, and very, very bad things happen to cute little kids. I admit, without reservation, that I was jolted into yelling out loud on at least a couple of occasions, which hardly ever happens to me. While the movie has more than its fair share of jump scares, it’s also tense, full of dread, and frightening.
It Chapter Two picks up exactly where we left off two years ago, with the young Losers in the aftermath of their battle with Pennywise, promising to come back if the killings in Derry, Maine start again.
The seven youngsters appear in a series of new scenes scattered throughout the movie. Because two years have passed since the first half was filmed, some digital de-aging of the adolescent actors was required, although I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t read about it in advance. A number of these scenes are blended into memories from the adult Losers after they respond to Mike Hanlon’s summons to return to Derry 27 years after the events of Chapter One.
After the prologue, the film opens with the famous Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) scene (based on a real incident in Bangor), which is even more brutal and visceral onscreen than it was in the novel because it plays out in real time instead of as a recollection of something that’s already happened. The human violence depicted here is arguably worse than what Pennywise does at the end of it. In Derry, as in so many other places, people are monsters, too.
We’ve all read the book, right? So you pretty much know what’s going to happen in the movie. In broad strokes, at least. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director Andy Muschietti remain relatively faithful to the source material, but there are changes, some of them trivial (Eddie doesn’t become a limousine driver when he grows up, and Richie, befitting a wisecracker in the 21st century, is now a stand-up comic…with a secret), some of them more extensive.
The way Pennywise’s backstory is revealed to the Losers is handled differently, for example. In the book, the monster’s origin is shown to the kids via a vision, whereas in the film it comes through adult Mike’s research. This was the probably the change I liked the least. In a supernatural story, learning something from a ritual seems more credible than conveniently finding someone living on the outskirts of town who has all the information he needs to battle an ancient monster. A late revelation about his handling of certain details doesn’t reflect well on Mike, which is a shame for a character who otherwise has a lot more to do in this film than in the first.
More effective is the reason the filmmakers came up with for why the Losers would agree to stay in Derry after their memories begin to return. It’s a clever plot point that makes sense.
Other events from the novel are shifted to different physical locations and times in the film, or completely re-imagined, which I quite liked because it kept me a little off-balance.
The adult Losers are portrayed by Jessica Chastain (Beverly Marsh), James McAvoy (Bill Denbrough), Bill Hader (Richie Tozier), Isaiah Mustafa (Mike Hanlon), Jay Ryan (Ben Hanscom), James Ransone (Eddie Kaspbrak) and Andy Bean (Stanley Uris). Chastain and McAvoy provide the star power to potentially make this movie big box office even for non-King fans, but it is Hader who steals the show. He is profane and hilarious in every scene in which he appears, with a hang-dog, world-weariness that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen him in Barry. Comedy’s flipside is tragedy, though, and Hader is well-equipped to handle some of the movie’s most poignant scenes, too.
I’m not as familiar with the other adult actors, but they all match their younger versions quite well with the exception of Ryan as a re-invented Ben, but that’s the point with him. Some other adult characters from the novel get short shrift, including Bill’s wife and Bev’s husband. Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) is here, though, doing pretty much everything he does in the novel with manic glee, although not necessarily in the same order or with the same outcome.
And then there’s Bill Skarsgård, of course, who is relentlessly creepy and effective in a role where you rarely see much of the “real” him. He is tragicomic, resorting to sob stories to seduce outcast victims into feeling sorry for him, before revealing his true intent. There’ll probably always be a debate about who is a better Pennywise, him or Tim Curry, but I’m not taking sides on this question. Curry has the advantage of legacy, but Skarsgård is amazing, too.
The Losers each get scenes where they react to Mike’s call. One noteworthy piece of cinematography in this section involves a shot through the bottom of a glass table where a jigsaw puzzle is being assembled. It’s something Vince Gilligan would probably have approved of. This leads up to the famous reunion at the Jade of the Orient restaurant, which is everything any fan of the novel could have wanted. Here we get an early indication of Richie’s self-deprecating wit. When he first encounters Ben and Bev, he says, “You two look amazing! What the fuck happened to me?”
There’s a running gag about the fact that the ending to Bill’s books all suck. Everyone thinks so, including his wife, the guy directing a movie based on his latest, the other Losers and a rather familiar fellow working in Second Hand Rose. As Richie says, “Let’s get out of Dodge before this ends worse than one of Bill’s books!”
The centerpiece of the second act is Bev’s visit with Mrs. Kersh, featured extensively in the first trailer. Joan Gregson is inspired in the role, and there are alternately scary and amusing shifts in the scene. Still, I couldn’t help but think of Gollum when she reveals her true nature.
This is in the section of the movie that many critics fault. With each of the returning Losers striking out alone to rediscover an artifact from the past, the pace slows…except each character also has a very visceral and vivid encounter with Pennywise in some form, which might seem repetitious after a while. Seeing some of this on film makes one wonder how It fails to just gobble up everything in its path. As a world eater, he fails more often than he succeeds.
In general, the special effects are creepy and effective, although not every bit of CGI is a winner. However, a scene where an arm covered with hands comes after a character freaked me out. I especially like what they did with “your hair is winter fire” in a scene with young Ben, and the scene in the funhouse where two forces fight for the life of a child is particularly tense and effective.
The monster is terrifying in all his various forms. You always know that those massive teeth are going to come out at some point. (One theater in Scotland is offering moviegoers a “comfort kit” that includes a blanket to hide behind, a stress ball and comfort food.) There’s a lot of blood (a lot of blood) but very little gore. Pennywise may bite, but you don’t see much of the inner workings of his victims.
The set design for the extensive underworld of sewers and tunnels is lavish, detailed and striking. Aboveground, Derry looks beautiful, and at times I had to remind myself it wasn’t Bangor, because some of the landscape (the canal especially) reminds me a lot of that Maine city. Oddly, the streets of Derry seem under-populated much of the time. Where are all the other residents? Is everyone at the Fair?
The house on Niebolt Street is back in all its ominous glory (“I love what they’ve done with the place,” adult Richie says), as is the famously tacky Paul Bunyan statue. I didn’t see the Standpipe, though, from which you might infer something about the movie’s climax, which the director discusses in this spoilerish interview.
I found myself wondering whether someone unfamiliar with the novel and who hadn’t seen Chapter One could enjoy this film. I’m probably not the best judge of that—I first read the novel over 30 years ago and have reread it numerous times since -=-but I believe the script has enough background information that it could work as a standalone.
So, does the ending suck? It does not. This may not be a perfect film, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Enough to see it again in a few days. I don’t do that often.
- The movie has cameo appearances by at least three people who have directed movies, including Muschietti. One is fairly subtle, and might only be recognized by cinephiles. Another is going to bring a huge smile to everyone’s face. I guarantee it! There’s also a cameo by an actor who was one of the young Losers in the 1990 miniseries.
- There are few Easter Eggs in this film. There’s the obligatory “Here’s Johnny” moment, and a conspicuous turtle sitting on a teacher’s desk, but things that might have been expected (like Christine picking up Henry Bowers) aren’t used, perhaps because the rights weren’t cleared. There is, though, a certain license plate in a scene where you might be distracted by a cameo performance.