Review: Faith to the source material keeps lengthy 'It Chapter Two' afloat
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Bigger, scarier, and gorier than 2017’s “It,” director Andy Muschietti’s nearly three hour long epic, “It Chapter Two” deepens the The Losers vs Pennywise saga, and though the movie is all over the place literally and figuratively, the filmmakers dedication to doing the book justice and a few rock solid performances (notably Bill Hader) make this second outing worth the trip to Derry.
Based on one of the best horror novels of all time, Stephen King took over 1,000 pages to tell the story of “It,” the narrative which focused on a sadistic evil clown tormenting a group of children, in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. Unlike the made-for-TV ABC miniseries from the 90s’ - Muschietti went for a more wholesome approach to the source material. Yeah, “It Chapter Two” runs a lengthy and cool 169 minutes, and features about several fake endings, but the emotional crux of this band of misfits and their kooky personalities shouldn’t go unnoticed.
In other words, “It Chapter Two” is a much bigger and ambitious project, as the film has to juggle between the main characters as both children and adults. Some would argue the main issue with “Chapter One” was how Pennywise seemed more like a ghoul in the shadow who really didn’t amount to much, whereas in “Chapter Two” - Bill Skarsgards’s diabolical clown is alloted a more sizable chunk of screen time.
As some know, the second half of the miniseries and book dealt with the children as adults, 27 years after the events of “Chapter One,” and all the adult performers bring a certain level of intensity. Not to mention all the casting feels right on the nose and about as perfect as could be, starting down the line with James McAvoy as the grown-up Bill Denbrough and Jessica Chastain as the adult Beverly, except it’s Bill Hader as the comedic wiseguy Richie who scores the biggest ovation of the picture.
In the first hour of “It Chapter Two” things do take their sweet time to get rolling with Muschietti not being afraid to shy away from the harsher material in the novel, including a brutal homophobic fueled attack on a gay couple that leaves one man dead. Additionally, we get a glimpse into each adult losers livelihood (Beverly is stuck in an abusive relationship, Bill is struggling with writing an ending to his movie, Richie is a big time comic and so on) before they all receive a call from Derry resident Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) saying it's time to honor the blood oath they swore if It ever returned.
Having grown up and gone their separate ways, their return home isn’t without its baggage. Most of the gang has done their best to forget the events that happened in Derry all those years ago and honestly it’s easy for an audience to feel that way too. If you haven’t read the book in awhile (guilty as charged) you might forget all the various and strange directions King takes his story, and as the events started trickling on screen, it slowly started coming back to me. In a way, it made for a full circle experience, which enhanced the overall experience.
And that’s “It Chapter Two’s” greatest achievement: being faithful to the material. Muschietti crafts some wildly elaborate and borderline hallucinogenic sequences that bring to life some of the more visceral imagery from the novel. Whether it's Beverly’s rendezvous with a creepy old lady (Pennywise using her as a puppet), Bill attempting to save a child from Pennywise’s funhouse trap - which is a textbook example of tension ramping that is both terrifying and effective - or Richie being chased down by a Paul Bunyon statue - “It Chapter Two” is far scarier than the first one mainly because it focuses on psychological trauma as opposed to cheap jump scares (granted, there are plenty of those too).
This all builds to a very convincing third act which sees The Losers come face to face in a climactic showdown for the ages, where Pennywise pulls out all the tricks, spooks, and stops to destroy his adversaries. Give credit to the filmmaking team for taking risks and trying to execute nearly every imaginative moment from the book, but you can’t help but feel an overall lack of discipline that hinders some of the tender moments. In jamming just about every sequence from the novel in the film, it takes away from the consistency and in these instances the ambition outweighs the final product. I’m sure there will be fans that’ll be happy with a three hour long adaptation, but I bet you could find thirty minutes to shave off.
However, there is a real heartwarming sense of peace as the Losers come back together and the films best moments - just like “Chapter One” - are when Muschietti homes in on these warm character moments. Granted, the film decides to split the gang up for half the film and that can leave much to be desired, but the end result of them standing side by side for the last time solidifies our emotional investment in these characters, and it’s that dedication which keeps “It Chapter Two” from floating in the sewers.