How do you end something that, essentially, has always had an issue being resolved? It’s no secret that the second half of Stephen King’s beloved novel isn’t quite as beloved as its first half, an issue that has always stood in the way of an adaptation. It’s not hard to see why; It‘s first half, which was adapted into the excellent 2017 film, deals with the scariness of growing up, materializing coming of age fears into a literal embodiment of fear, and while the second half has a lot of interesting ideas about how childhood trauma stays with us into adulthood, it’s also a hard thing to do without revisiting the same material.
Unfortunately, It Chapter Two has this exact issue, and is so keen to remind us of what has already occurred within the lives of each character that it doesn’t really develop them as adults. It’s also worse in every technical level; the scares are more elaborate, but less specific to the fears we’ve already seen, the CGI is overused and generally doesn’t look great, and the emotional throughlines for each character are less clear.
27 years after they defeated Pennywise, the Loser’s Club returns to Derry after Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) uncovers clues following a horrific hate crime. Bill (James McAvoy) is now a screenwriter and author who can’t seem to end his stories, Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is in an abusive relationship with a man much like her father, Richie (Bill Hader) is a struggling standup comedian, Eddie (James Ransome) has failed to overcome his anxieties, Ben (Jay Ryan) has found success as an architect but still feels the pain inflicted upon him by bullies, and Stan (Andy Bean) has seemingly adjusted well to adulthood, yet is crushed by fear of returning to his hometown.
It seems like the film would do well to spend time with these characters and show how their trauma is part of their everyday lives, but the film barely dedicates a scene to each character before thrusting them back into the quest to kill Pennywise. The brief glance at how they may interact together is seen in a great dinner scene in which they reconnect, but even that is abruptly cut short to get into the plot. Yes, it’s hard to spend time with seven leads, but this is a nearly three hour movie that is much less judicious with its time than its predecessor was.
One of the joys of said predecessor was the interactions between the group, but It Chapter Two is quick to separate them as they go on their own quests to find artifacts from their past that will be used to kill Pennywise. This seems like a good idea in theory to give each character the chance to literally confront their fears and get completely vulnerable, but the majority of these scenes are shown using the younger child actors. Not only do these stories mostly retread the themes of the first film, but they’re also more over the top and for the most part lack any real insight into how these characters have changed.
Yes, we get some scenes with the cast together, but due to the relentless pace they’re mostly scenes needed to progress the plot or spell out key emotional moments. These aren’t the types of scenes that made the first It work so well; that film benefited from the growing comradery between the group, the in jokes and moments of humanity that built up the characters before they confronted true evil. These are also the types of scenes missing in It Chapter Two, and it sticks out. The hyper sincerity of the emotional revelations in the first film didn’t feel cheesy because these kids were fleshed out (and also younger, and less refined in their language), but they stick out more in Chapter Two because of the weird structure (the actual mythology behind the artifacts themselves is also strange and vague).
This is essentially a three hour movie where very little happens, and it also features a far less intimidating Pennywise- the titular clown is barely featured in the second act, and his absence makes the stakes feel less frantic. This is a much more violent film that the first, but it’s not as scary; one of the joys of the first film was that the entire town of Derry was creeping with dark secrets and creepy people, and that these kids had to fight the very notion of their town (and in turn their childhood). That’s not really a thing here, as we don’t get much interactions within Derry, and Pennywise’s depiction is filled with huge CGI spectacle that fails to terrify in the same way because it doesn’t resemble an actual scary concept.
Enough complaining though- the one thing the film really knocks out is the casting, and while I have gripes with the story arcs, the chemistry between the group works brilliantly. This feels like childhood friends reuniting after a long time; they’re not entirely comfortable, and while they remember the familiar feelings that haunt them they have lost many specific memories (a framing device the film uses to explore its flashbacks). Seeing these actors slip back into their familiar company incorporates many great moments.
Despite their strong portrayals in the first film, Ben and Beverly aren’t particularly well handled here. This is no jab at McAvoy or Chastain, who are some of our best living actors, but Bill’s story arc indistinguishable from the first film, and I’m not exactly sure what Bev’s arc was intended to be. McAvoy and Chastain are able to elevate the material, and the way in which they slip into familiar habits when faced with flashbacks is very well handled.
That being said, it’s actually Eddie and Richie who prove to be the film’s standouts; Eddie has been stuck in a loop of insecurity and anxiety that permeated his childhood, and is tragically stuck playing the role. I can’t say enough good things about Bill Hader as Richie; we see now the motivations for Richie’s behavior and how his humor is a deflection; while the rest of the characters are caught reliving past development, Richie’s arc allows us to see the first film in a new light, and Hader’s tour de force performance is able to induce tears on at least three key occasions.
The oddest thing is that the film really sticks the landing; when it’s not focusing on the mythology of Pennywise (which becomes more convoluted and less interesting), It Chapter Two has the feeling of an epic, and the last fifteen minutes feel like the conclusion to a grand saga of character we really grew to love. It’s easy to become so engrossed in the losers as people that we’re willing to forget the flaws along the way- we remember the good more than the bad, much like a certain summer in Derry.
There’s a running gag throughout the film about Bill’s inability to craft a good ending, but the self aware gags are actually ironic; the ending isn’t the issue with the film, but its saving grace. Despite all the issues it took to get there, It Chapter Two doesn’t only have a good ending, but it is a good ending to this story, a worthwhile fulfillment to the series that doesn’t really stand on its own. For that reason alone, I’m recommending It Chapter Two even though I don’t think it’s particularly good- it’s an event film, one we don’t see very much of anymore because it has something that is sorely forgotten- closure. Grade: C+