[Review] 'IT Chapter 2' has a great story at its core, but suffers from some frightening pacing
Stephen King’s IT is a story that has been told three times now. And while it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone, it looks like It: Chapter 2 will be the third time that the “adult” section of the story is about 27 times weaker than the “kid’s” half…
…Andy Muschietti (It, Mama) returns to direct, with a script from Gary Dauberman (The Nun, Annabelle), and let’s just say, fans of the first film are really going to notice the absence of writers Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga, who wrote the original draft of IT 2017. In Chapter 2, the Loser’s Club is all grown up, and they’ve completely forgotten their memories from Derry, and the monster that nearly killed them. But when each member receives a call from the only one who stayed behind, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the Loser’s Club realize they must return to Derry and face the evil they thought they had destroyed, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).
Let’s get this out of the way: I grew up on the original IT TV mini-series, loved it, and was not at all a fan of the remake. Mainly because I thought every scene with the kids was done beautifully, yet just about every “horror” moment was treated without much subtlety and became an overwhelming mess of things jumping out and screaming at me. Not my idea of good horror. And I don’t think there’s any argument that that film did young Beverly (Sophia Lillis) dirty. It Chapter 2 suffers many of the same problems, and then some.
First up, the cast. This is an extraordinary cast, and I’m not sure the film would even be watchable without them. Jessica Chastain (Beverly), James McAvoy (Bill), Jay Ryan (Ben), James Ransone (Eddie) and Mustafa as Mike are all brilliant and provide an emotional depth that isn’t in the script, yet the stories you’ve heard are all true, among that list of greats, Bill Hader as Richie really does steal the show. Hader is the comedic, warm heart that keeps It Chapter 2 pumping even when it feels most dead, and I swear, he resuscitated me a few times. Between the two films and roughly five hours of story, we’ve gotten to know these characters well, and everyone gets their moment to shine with scenes that will move you and make you feel like you’re a member of the Loser’s Club, a club I always felt to be a part of growing up, but none more so than Hader.
That’s the good side of the character treatment. The negative is that, outside of some interesting development with Richie that I absolutely loved, some of the writing in It Chapter 2 has these characters feeling totally disingenuous at times. There are so many occasions where one of our heroes either gets seriously hurt, is facing something truly horrifying, or has even just murdered someone, and everyone decides to crack a joke. If you’re into quippy Marvel movie one liners and want that in your horror, this might be for you. For me, this kind of forced comedy undercuts all of the emotional drama when it should be at its strongest, and often left me frustrated and wondering when Pennywise suddenly wasn’t the only clown in the film.
And that’s not to say comedy doesn’t work in horror. Comedy and horror go hand in hand, but it needs to be done right. One of the strong suits of It Chapter 2 is that when the one-liners aren’t making you groan, a lot of the comedy is actually pretty damn effective. I mentioned that Hader is like the life blood of the film, dropping a line or two at the perfect time to make us all forget that characters we love are in real danger. Hell, I want Richie/Hader attending every funeral I ever go to, he can lighten any mood. But in all seriousness, the love these characters have for each other is so strong and it was impossible not to feel that warmth through the screen. Watching It Chapter 2 is like hanging out with your best friends. This film wonderfully captures that magical experience we sometimes get when we see an old friend for the first time in years, only to feel completely at ease like nothing has changed.
Too bad though that a lot of the laughter you’ll experience is completely unintentional. This review is starting to feel like a compliment sandwich, but that’s just how much of a mixed bag It Chapter 2 is. Some of it is because of how the scares are handled, most of which are pretty goofy, like one moment that has a creature barfing on Eddie and, for some reason, Muschietti decides to play a misplaced, upbeat tune over three seconds of slow-mo sludge puke. If you laughed at the old woman doing the “dancing clown” dance through the hall naked in the trailer, well, that’s how most of the scares are treated in this. And don’t even get me started on the ending. For all of you who claim that the giant spider in the original is “stupid”, It Chapter 2 says oh, you thought that was bad? Hold my cotton candy.
A big part of the problem with the film is that, just like the first chapter, whenever the cast is together and having a good time, it couldn’t be better. But when they’re alone and facing “horrors”, things get sloppy. It Chapter 2 starts off strong, with a first act that practices subtlety when it comes to the scares, building scenes and taking its time, but soon devolves into a circus parade of jump scares that come so frequent and frantically I felt as tired as Tim Curry probably is of hearing that Skarsgard is the better Pennywise (he’s great, but get real, people).
The scares themselves may not be all that effective, but one thing I can say for It Chapter 2 is that the creatures in this chapter are pure nightmare fuel that are going to have some of you screaming that you want that balloon, Georgie. That was one element that was a huge improvement over the original in the first chapter, and it’s the same here. There are insects with the faces of babies, things entirely made of child hands, and even a nice homage to the crawling head from The Thing. I still can’t take this version of Pennywise seriously though. Yes, Skarsgard is amazing, but Muschietti digitally contorts his face so often in such a way that he looks like a sad clown painted by Edvard Munch (look him up). I thought Pennywise doing an Irish jig in the first film was ridiculous. I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen anything yet.
Some of the transitions in It Chapter 2 are utterly breathtaking and masterfully crafted, but outside of that, this film has a massive pacing/editing problem. Pennywise has waited for 27 years to get back at the Loser’s Club, and with a three hour runtime, I felt every ounce of his bored pain. Characters are constantly split up for no solid reason, and there are at least two sequences which seem to go on for forty minutes each in which we experience one scene after the other with each member encountering a “scare”. The finale itself pulls a Return of the King and seems to go on for days. What’s really frustrating is that so much of the narrative just works as a distraction from the core story. It’s as if someone behind the film was so worried that the second half of the book is “slower”, that they decided to throw in a bunch of extra nonsense to see what sticks.
All in all, It Chapter 2 is an amazing, enjoyable experience when focusing on the friendship of the Loser’s Club, and a cheap funhouse that I felt trapped in for days otherwise. If you were a fan of the first chapter, you’ll probably like this one, but for those who didn’t, this is more of the same, and I don’t think anyone will walk out of this feeling more satisfied than they did with chapter one.
It Chapter 2 is now clowning around in theaters.
By Matt Konopka
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