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Josh Reviews IT: Chapter Two

September 16th, 2019
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Stephen King’s It is a magnificent novel, complex and horrifying and wonderfully memorable.  The novel tells two interwoven stories: of how the Loser’s Club discovered and fought a horrifyingly evil entity in the small town of Derry in 1957-58, and how they returned to the town 27 years later as adults to once again confront that evil in 1984.  In adapting the novel for film, the filmmakers made the fascinating choice to have the first film tell the kids’ half of the story, with the sequel devoted to the adults’ half of the tale.  (They also cleverly updated the time-frame of the first film, It: Chapter One, to 1989, so that the sequel film could tell the second half of the story in the present day.)  I loved the first It film from 2017.  (Shockingly, I liked it a LOT more than the disappointing adaptation of The Dark Tower, which had been the film I was anticipating far more.)  And so I have been very eager to see how the sequel film, focusing on the adult versions of the characters, would come off!

For the most part, I quite enjoyed It: Chapter Two!  I think it’s a worthy sequel to the first film.  The first film was stronger, mostly because I think the kids’ half of the story is the more interesting half.  The “coming of age” aspect of the kids’ story lends that part of the tale a little more emotional resonance.  I also think this sequel, at two hours and 45 minutes in length, was too long.  It sagged in the middle somewhat.  But that being said, this is a skillfully-made film.  The cast is fantastic, and the film manages to be a lot of fun and also very scary and also quite moving.  It’s tough for a film to accomplish all of that!

The best aspect of It: Chapter Two is the cast.  They have assembled a perfect, and I mean PERFECT, cast to play the adult versions of the kids we met in Chapter One.  James McAvoy plays Bill.  Mr. McAvoy is an amazing actor and a big-time movie star (I’ve been a fan ever since the Sci-Fi Channel’s mini-series adaptation of Dune Messiah) and he’s fantastic as the leader of the “Loser’s Club.”  Jessica Chastain plays Beverly, and she brings such depth and strength to the role of Bev.  Bill Hader plays the funny, fast-talking Richie, and I can’t think of a better actor to play this role.  James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka from The Wire!) plays Eddie, and while Mr. Ransone isn’t the movie-star that the first three actors I’ve listed are, he is absolute perfection as the adult Richie.  Not only does he look exactly like Jack Dylan Grazer, who played young Richie in Chapter One, but he perfectly captures his chatty nervousness.  Jay Ryan plays the older, hunky version of Ben; he’s the actor who looks the least like his childhood counterpart, which its exactly the point.  Mr. Ryan perfectly captures Ben’s gentleness and his intelligence.  Isaiah Mustafa plays Mike; Mike has a much larger role to play in the adult side of things, and Mr. Mustafa carries the role well.  Finally there is Andy Bean as Stanley.  Like James Ransone, Mr. Bean is a perfect adult version of Wyatt Oleff, the actor who played Stanley in Chapter One.

What an amazing group!!  There are some big names in this cast.  I am impressed they were able to get them all for this horror movie sequel!  The movie works best when all or most of these characters are on-screen together.  Their chemistry is terrific.  It’s no accident that my favorite scene in the movie is their reunion dinner of Chinese food at Jade of the Orient.  That sequence is perfection.  It’s joyous to see these friends reunite and slowly rediscover their friendship… and of course things turn horrifying when Pennywise gives them all a good scare, transforming their fortune cookies into monstrous creatures.

I commented above that the film is too long.  The first hour is terrific, and the ending was solid (though I have a few quibbles, which we’ll get to in a moment).  There’s a long middle section of stuff mostly invented for the film, in which the Losers separate so they can each get an “artifact” from their childhood that they can later sacrifice in the ceremony to stop Pennywise.  The individual sequences in this stretch are all solid, with some fun scares and some nice bits of insight into the characters.  But taken together, they’re a bore, because each one of the characters runs through basically the same story, of returning to a location from the first film and then getting attacked/scared by Pennywise.  One after another, it’s a drag.  Also, because this whole invented-for-the-film business of sacrificing these artifacts ultimately fails to actually kill Pennywise, it all winds up feeling like a big waste of time.  (Additionally, Ben’s flashback to an encounter-gone-wrong with Bev in school doesn’t make any sense, because as seen in Chapter One, Ben and Bev first spoke on the last day of school, and by the end of that summer she’d moved away.)

The film makes a lot of jokes about how Bill the writer can’t write good endings to any of his books.  This is, of course, a nod to that exact criticism having been leveled at Stephen King more than once over the years.  It shows a lot of chutzpah to mock Stephen King’s ending and then to do a lot of rewriting to the end of one of his most famous novels.  The ending of the film It: Chapter Two has some resemblance to the novel, but the filmmakers made a LOT of changes, more than I’d expected.

Some of the changes work.  I was glad that the film kept Mike involved in the final battle.  (In the novel, he was badly injured by Pennywise before the final confrontation.)  While I was bummed that Bill’s wife Audra didn’t appear again in the film after we see her on her movie set in the beginning, I was glad that the film spared her the cruel and undeserved ending she got in the book.  I was also particularly glad that, in the film, the adult Losers seemed to maintain their memories of what they’d experienced in Derry at the end.  I found it unsatisfying in the book that the characters seemed to be again forgetting everything after they’d destroyed Pennywise.  I wanted them to be able to maintain the bonds they’d reforged after reuniting as adults, and so I liked that change in the film.

I was also intrigued and pleased that the film leaned into a notion that the book sort of suggested but never really went there, that Richie and Eddie were both gay.  The film doesn’t come right out and say this, but it nevertheless makes it pretty explicit.  We see Richie get taunted with homophobic slurs by Bowers and his friends.  We hear Pennywise tell Richie that he knows his dark secret.  And at the end, we see Richie carving their initials (R + E) into wood on the bridge.  I’m pleased that the film went in this direction.

In the book, the Losers use laughter to defeat Pennywise (since he feeds on fear).  I can understand that not necessarily being very cinematic, but I don’t think what they changed this too worked so well either.  The idea of defeating Pennywise because he takes on the weakness of whatever form he assumes is an interesting notion… the problem is that isn’t at all consistent with what we’d seen before.  In Chapter One, we saw Pennywise in clown form get shot in the head by Mike’s sheep-killing gun; but that doesn’t destroy Pennywise, even though an actual clown would of course be very dead after something like that.

One of the great thing about so many of Stephen King’s novels is the way that he keeps human beings as the heroes and villains, even in stories featuring lots of supernatural elements.  In the novel It, the adult Henry Bowers and Bev’s abusive husband provide very human dangers to the Losers who are as scary, if not more so, than Pennywise.  The film missed that mark on that, though.  Adult Henry is played just a mite too silly, and Bev’s asshole husband doesn’t follow her to Derry the way he does in the novel.  (In fact, Bev’s journey in the novel of breaking free of her cycle of living with abusive men doesn’t much factor into the film, which is a shame as that was an interesting aspect of her character.  Throughout the film we see the bruises on her arm, but curiously no character ever asks her about them, and Bev’s escape from her abusive husband never enters back into the story.)

Although this film focuses on the adults, I was very pleased that they found a number of ways to include the young versions of all the characters in the story.  A few scenes were lifted from the first film, but a lot of new material with the kids was shot for this sequel.  It’s terrific seeing the kids back in the film.  I love those actors and those versions of these characters so much.  They apparently used CGI to de-age the kids back to how they looked a few years ago, when the first film was shot.  There were one or two moments when I noticed a face that looked a little off, but for the most part, that CGI work was seamless.  It’s an incredible achievement.

Other thoughts:

* Bill Skarsgård is amazing, once again, as Pennywise.  He is terrifying and incredibly weird and memorable.

* I loved seeing Pennywise’s three doors (“scary,” “very scary,” and “not scary at all”) again… and I got a kick out of seeing the bloody legs and torso of a girl behind one of the doors, a very clever callback to seeing her legless top-half back in Chapter One (in which she could be hear asking, “where’s my shoe?”).

* I loved hearing Bev say “Beep beep, Richie”; that’s a classic line from the book, though because the films didn’t use that line much before, it won’t mean too much to those who haven’t read the book.

* In the first film, we saw Henry Bowers fall into a bottomless pit.  (Mike knocks him down the well in the house on Niebolt Street.)  So I’m not sure how he survived, as we learn in Chapter Two he did…

* I was delighted and surprised to see Peter Bogdanovich pop up as the director of Bill and Adura’s film!

* Stephen King’s Constant Readers know that a turtle is an important image in his books.  There were a few turtles in Chapter One, and I was happy to see a big turtle on a desk in the school at one point in Chapter Two!

* I loved the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in which Henry Bowers sticks his face through the door and shouts “Heeeere’s Johnny!”  That is, of course, a reference to Jack Nicholson in The Shining, and a nice nod to the interconnected universe of Mr. King’s novels.

I enjoyed It: Chapter Two!  It’s over-indulgent in its length and it can’t quite measure up to the first film, but it’s still an extremely well-made and very enjoyable film, and a satisfying conclusion to this story.

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