In one of my previous reviews, I jokingly said that 2019 is the year of bad endings. When I wrote this, I was primarily referring to the dismal finale of Game of Thrones, as well as a handful of other endings that haven’t satisfied me this year. Because of this, I was hoping that IT: Chapter Two would prove me wrong, that this film would provide the closure I needed from it and the overall franchise – but the 2019 curse has struck once again and it has given us another terrible ending.
Set 27 years after the events of Chapter One, the film focuses on our band of Losers as now successful adults, who all return to their hometown of Derry upon learning about a series of brutal murders that have taken place there. After the unprecedented success of the first film, it seemed that director Andy Muschietti had cracked the formula to creating a solidly good Stephen King adaptation, and the beginning of the film also reinforces this. Lifting one of the more vicious scenes from the book, the film begins with a young gay couple becoming the victims of a brutal homophobic attack. Leading to one of the men being thrown into the river, only to be pulled free by a mysterious and sinister-looking clown.
The sequence is probably one of, if not the best the whole film has to offer. With the raw, guttural violence signifying how hard this movie is willing to go. It is beautifully paced, acted and directed and it also tonally gels with the first film. However, it also marks the end of the good and the beginning of the bad, with all events taking place afterward feeling more like a fast-paced mess than a slowly burning horror film.
The next half an hour shows Mike (the only Loser who remained in Derry) ringing up his old friends to bring them back to the small town. What follows is a quickly edited and not fully realised sequence of each character leaving their lives behind, with some characters not even being allowed to divulge elements of their lives such as their professions or marital status.
And this is where the first major issue of the film comes into play. The new adult cast do not have the same likability or charisma as the younger cast, making the film feel like a chore to get through. After all it’s hard to sit through three hours of film when you have no real emotional connection to any of the characters. However this is not truly the cast’s fault, for even some of the main characters here do not seem to understand their motives or personality – a problem which is probably due to the weak and underdeveloped screenplay.
For example, in the novel and original adaptation, Mike is the one known for his love of literature and history. And yet in Chapter One of this new franchise these elements of the character are stripped away and given to Ben, leaving Mike with no real defining qualities. So when we see him as an adult working as a librarian in Derry, it doesn’t make sense. And poor Isaiah Mustafa just waffles through his dialogue, never giving Mike anything interesting for the audience to latch on to.
Characters like Bill and Beverley also suffer from having their original novel story arcs tampered with, with neither one of their spouses having a presence in the film that lasts beyond two minutes. Something which is doubly shocking when you remember just how important Bill’s wife, Audra, is to the final climax of the novel. The fact that Beverley married a man who treats her almost exactly like her father does, is also brushed under the carpet in favour of the stagnant love triangle that is barely developed between her, Bill and Ben. And speaking of Ben, Jay Ryan may just be the worst actor in the whole movie, with his abs giving more personality than he does it all three, pain-staking hours.
The only character who seems to remain unscathed is Richie, who is played beautifully by a power house Bill Hader. My only issue here being the strange creative decision to make his character into a closeted gay man, something which feels more like diversity clause 101 than it does a fluid and organic decision. Not only is it barely mentioned, but it also makes me wonder why the filmmakers would think we could care about any of the characters’ sexuality, seeing as this is a horror film and not a Oscar-bait drama. I want to see these characters kill an evil space entity, so I couldn’t care less who they are attracted to when they do so.
All these flaws seems to stem from a director and screen writer who seem to have had their egos inflated to Pennywise balloon-size since the release of the first film. Muschietti draws out the film into a staggering three hours, in what feels like an attempt to make the film feel more into the horror genre’s answer to epic finales such as Return of the King. But instead of following in the footsteps of Peter Jackson, Muschietti simply becomes another James Wan, a director who makes terrible, money-grabbing movies that are loved by the horror abiding masses. While on the other hand, Gary Dauberman’s screenplay seems to actually forget any of the events that transpired in the first film, with new elements and features being added in supposed faithfulness to the book.
It almost feels as if Dauberman knew he had to adapt the book into two films and therefore decided to read the book as two separate parts. Because of this, elements such as the significance of Bill’s bike, the Losers’ affiliation with the Barrens and even the characters’ relationships with each other are removed and then hastily brought back here, in the hope of making the two films feel like a cohesive narrative. But because of the adaptational dissonance, they don’t feel like two parts of one big story. Instead they feel like two different films and that’s a huge problem. Even Beverley’s half-hearted “Beep, beep Richie” felt forced and tacked on because it hasn’t been established as part of this franchise’s lore.
And speaking of lore, the rich mythology of the story is also completely negated by the screenplay, leaving the audience scratching their heads as to why IT even exists in the first place. Although some exposition is given, it is done in such a madhouse way that you’re left wondering what the hell you just watched. In many ways it truly is a great creative feat in that the film runs for three hours and yet you learn nothing and take nothing away from it. The fact that so many key plot points are also removed, makes the runtime feel even more unnecessary.
And it seems that some of my previous reservations about the franchise were met once again here, Pennywise still remains to be the film’s primary crutch. You would think that a shape-shifting evil entity would change its form now and again, but no! Instead it is constantly Pennywise, to the point where the final confrontation takes place between the Losers and a giant spider-clown hybrid which looks stupid rather than terrifying. It’s hard to take the film and villain seriously when he ends up looking like King Candy at the end of Wreck It Ralph. And any other monsters seen in the movie sadly fall into the same tradition, with the majority looking silly and melodramatic. Robbing the film of any of the terror and reality that made it work so much in the first instalment.
Overall, IT: Chapter Two proves to be one chapter too many. Perhaps the films was always due to pale in comparison to its predecessor, but that still is no excuse for the poor creative decisions seen made here. The horror runs more comical than scary and the screenplay tries to make sense of a narrative that was arguably changed and maybe even ruined by creative decisions made in the first film. The cast tries to do what they can with the poor material and the director believes he has created the first great horror epic, but really he has just created another forgettable mainstream fare. Part of me wishes that this film, much like its titular character, would simply disappear down the sewer and never return.