I’ll keep this short and sweet… is not something anybody involved in the production of this seventeen-hour-long saunter down memory lane said at any point on set, even in jest.
After part one of the long-gestating film adaptation of Stephen King’s It took the world by storm back in 2017, I confidently predicted in my annual Top Ten that the inevitable second chapter chronicling the grown-up Losers Club’s final confrontation with Pennywise the Clown had nowhere to go but down the proverbial drain. This forecast was founded on the notoriously poor quality of the hammy 1990 television duology’s second half, the fact that the adults comprise the least interesting portions of the predominantly kid-focused novel, and the assumption that older incarnations of lovable child characters would be simultaneously cringy and dull to witness (just look at Stranger Things Season 3). These rock-bottom expectations enabled me to enter the theater with the open-mindedness necessary to assess Chapter Two objectively, and my conclusion is this – while miles better than what I had been anticipating, It Chapter Two is still a long, tedious, repetitive, and stale attempt at horror that is salvaged only by its unexpected humour and admittedly spot-on cast.
Be forewarned – spoilers abound in plenteousness.
For the rare minority of readers constituting the uninitiated, the story of It chronicles a group of misfit kids known as The Losers Club as they contend with an evil, otherworldly, child-consuming entity that preys on individual fears, generally in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Twenty-seven years after the events of the first film, in which the child Losers supposedly defeated their foe in the sewers beneath their hometown of Derry, Pennywise is back and more cartoony and drool-filled than ever. The now-adult Losers, having taken a sacred oath to return to Derry if Pennywise ever resurfaced and finish what they started, must band together, face their fears, and vanquish their carnivorous adversary once and for all… again.
At this rate, Warner Bros. could honestly let this thing ride for a few more chapters until we get a group of elderly, senile Losers opposing Pennywise from the comfort of their nursing homes.
The fundamental problem with Chapter Two lies not with its direction (which is competent), its cast (which is surprisingly suburb), or even its failure to serve up legitimate scares (they’re all about as startling as an old-school episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?), but with its source material. To be clear, I wholeheartedly enjoy Stephen King’s oeuvre, It included. It’s a fun and ambitious read that’s an essential part of the King multiverse and generates some interesting dinner conversations, especially with grandma. That being said, it’s also an oft-frustrating, inconsistent, bloated, cocaine-fueled mess whose page-count could be divided in half without compromising the plot one iota. Enrapturing as King’s prose invariably is, the rules dictating Pennywise’s powers and limitations are unclear or outright contradictory and the plot is often sidelined by immaterial ‘why-is-this-in-here?’ oddities like Bev Marsh covertly observing Henry Bowers receive a handjob in the town junkyard (rest assured, the infamous underage gangbang is not an isolated instance of WTF gag-inducers that King offers up to the reader on a phallic-shaped platter). While the handjob scene is thankfully absent from Andy Mushietti’s bipartite adaptation, other glaring problems afflicting King’s inches-thick tome remain, such as the meandering pace, the total irrelevancy of certain tertiary characters’ actions, and the squandered opportunities to truly examine the more existential fears that plague adults.
Most glaring of all, Chapter Two lacks tension, a direct consequence of the approach taken in adapting part one. Like the miniseries, the first installment covers the events relating exclusively to the kids, leaving the second to the adults. The structure of the novel, however, is non-linear, constantly shifting back and forth between the past and present. In the latter timeline, the grown-up Losers cannot remember how they defeated Pennywise the first time due to some contrived nonsense about supernatural memory dampening. The key to killing the murderous clown is therefore treated as a mystery, with the reader experiencing the journeys of the kids in tandem with their adult selves, who gradually relive their respective childhood traumas and piece together clues as they retread their steps through Derry. The past serves as an elongated flashback that mirrors the present timeline until they sync up in the dénouement, at which point both age groups’ climactic confrontation with Pennywise unfolds concurrently.
This means that Chapter Two, much like its miniseries counterpart, was doomed from the very beginning. See, we the viewer already know how the Losers beat Pennywise as youngsters because we already saw them do it firsthand. Because we’re reentering Derry armed with information the characters collectively lack, their absent memories and desperate search for answers is both frustrating to watch and narratively empty. Imagine a version of Citizen Kane where the viewer knows the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ immediately because Charles Foster Kane pointed at his beloved sled from across the room before croaking, only for the core mystery surrounding the meaning of his deathbed utterance to remain unaltered. Granted, Chapter Two attempts to rectify this fundamental redundancy by having the Losers perform the watered-down Ritual of Chüd, but this is undercut when the ritual fails and they wind up vanquishing the clown in the exact same manner as the first film.
Though the plot is a chore to sit through, I will readily concede that my misgivings regarding the adult actors being DOA were completely unfounded. Indeed, this movie boasts one of the most cohesive, entertaining, charismatic, and believable film ensembles in recent memory, with Bill Hader and James Ransone in particular standing out from the pack. Their diverse personalities, energetic stage presences, and flawless line deliveries keep the film from ever feeling overstuffed, and their uncanny resemblance to their correlative adolescent performers leaves no doubt in my mind that temporal vortexes exist. Also, it goes without saying that Bill Skarsgård will be immortalized in the annals of history as one of the most iconic clowns in entertainment, right alongside the Joker and Krusty.
In conclusion, It Chapter Two is long, nonsensical, and fairly uninspired, only rendered watchable by its stellar cast, who alone prevented an unmitigated disaster for Warner Bros’ financial department. While I didn’t hate it and my nonexistent expectations prevented me from suffering disappointment, like the Losers themselves I just wanted the whole ordeal to end so I could move on with my damn life.