'IT Chapter Two' Is an Appropriate Conclusion but Lacks Spark Directed by Andy Muschietti
Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård and Finn Wolfhard
Published Sep 04, 2019Stephen King's IT is a colossal book, in more ways than one. Over the course of a thousand pages, King tracks the nature of evil, violence, bigotry, abuse, love and friendship, seen through the eyes of seven children and the adults they later become. Out of necessity, both the 1990 miniseries, and director Andy Muschietti's duology, have adapted the novel into two parts, but only Muschietti's IT Chapter Two centres solely on the adults (barring brief flashbacks in which they reconfront the horrors their past selves endured). Some pace-based missteps aside, IT Chapter Two is a satisfying conclusion to one of horror's true epics.
It's 2016, 27 years after preteens Bill (Jaeden Martell), Beverly, (Sophia Lillis) Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) sealed away the shapeshifting evil entity that most often manifests as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård, reprising his role from the first film).
Six of the seven members of the Losers Club have left Derry and gone on to have successful careers as adults: Bill (James McAvoy) is a bestselling novelist; Beverly (Jessica Chastain) co-runs a fashion label with her domineering husband; Ben (Jay Ryan) is an acclaimed architect; Eddie (James Ransone) is a financial analyst; Richie (Bill Hader) is a standup comedian; and Stan (Andy Bean) is an accountant and entrepreneur. Only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained in Derry all this time, watching and waiting for the day when evil returns. After a series of disappearances culminates in a violent assault and a frightening message from Pennywise, Mike realizes it's time to call the Losers back to Derry, to fight It for one final showdown.
All seven lead actors play fantastically off the habits and traits of the children we were introduced to in Chapter One and how those traits have translated into adulthood. Hader and Ransome are especially adept at this — Hader plays Richie as the kind of vulnerable adult who hides his repressed fears under crass jokes, and Ransome captures the same sense of manic paranoia Eddie exhibited in childhood. As a cohesive unit, though, this older Losers Club lacks the naturalness and energy that led to the original seven kids being such engaging presences. It may be because we spend so much time with the adult Losers individually, both in Derry and outside it, that we don't have much of a chance to see how this chemistry reiterates — or doesn't — when the Losers age into adulthood. Because of this sustained separation, the pace of the film starts to stall, despite impressive visuals and engaging performances.
Once the action really begins and the final battle with It ramps up, the film's pace increases to breakneck, showing off a variety of gleefully creepy, ambitious, inventive set pieces, from a fantastic homage to John Carpenter's The Thing to the world's scariest Monty Hall Problem. Pennywise's attacks are more psychological this time, and cut to the core of the various ways the adult Losers have disappointed their past selves — Beverly's cycle of abuse, Bill's guilt over failing to protect Georgie, Ben's perpetual loneliness, Richie's inability to be honest about his emotions. The flashbacks in which It attacks them as children take on sinister cruelty when revisited by their adult selves, and we get the sense that it's so important to kill Pennywise precisely because they'll never be able to overcome this trauma when they're constantly terrorized by their own memories. IT Chapter Two is very much the second half of a whole, and as a film, one that relies on drawing from Chapter One in order to make sense.
The production design (helmed by Paul Denham Austerberry, who won an Oscar for his work on The Shape of Water) makes Derry feel like a fully realized universe, inhabited by not only regular citizens, but an inhuman evil that bleeds through the town's veins. The scariest scene in IT Chapter Two doesn't involve Pennywise, but rather, a group of young teen thugs who brutally beat two gay men. Lifted from the novel, it's narratively intended to show It's return to Derry, but what it really does is confirm that the real evil is what humans are capable of doing to each other. It's a grim message, but one countered by both the book and the film's core message: that the pureness of true, lasting friendship, while not always enough to stop tragedy, can be enough to act as a light in the darkness.