Mike and Eric’s Review of It: Chapter Two (2019)

Fangoria! Woo!
The big horror movie that everyone has been waiting for has landed. It: Chapter Two delivers a good looking, well-acted and often scary film that is also overly long, and has a mechanical narrative style, but is, in the end, an enjoyable outing.

Mike’s Review: ★★★ out of ★★★★★

While it’s obviously possible to read all 704 pages of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean that all will obtain the same level of enjoyment. Forced labor camps are a harsh bit of reality for even the most hardened and cynical among us. Sometimes you need a quick and economical reprieve. A breezy but shocking jolt out of the doldrums of life.  Clocking in at 1,138 pages (434 more than Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume trip into labor hell on earth), IT is not that simple piece of escapism that you’re yearning for, nor is It: Chapter Two

In 2019’s It: Chapter Two, director Andy Muschietti (Mama and It: Chapter One) is dealt a mighty complex hand.  Something akin to being handed an entire deck of cards and told that you can only keep 15 cards — but no one is going to tell you which cards to keep, which to play, or when to play them.  While Muschietti only keeps a handful of cards, he recycles an exceptional amount of cards from the first deck he was dealt.  The end result is two hours and 49 minutes of some exposition, but not enough; lots of flash-backs, not all of which are necessary; and a clumsy and unclear series of relationships that sometimes make sense and sometimes don’t.

It: Chapter Two gets the entire band back together.  Each member of the band is slowly and in some cases, painfully, revealed. All have baggage and all have trauma, but Muschietti is stuck with trying to draw out the Pennywise-induced trauma vs. the regular ol’ trauma of being a semi-functional adult in a grown-up world. The IT team gets back together 27 years later and reassembles in Derry, Maine.  Mike (Isiah Mustafa) gets on the horn and calls all his pals back into service. It’s not entirely clear what precipitates Mike’s call to the IT army — whether it’s a single attack or a group of attacks, the fact that it’s 27 years later, some vague writings on the wall, or his somewhat disconnected encounter with local tribal members.  But, once the IT team receives the call, they hop to and quickly. 

Upon their return to the scene of their non-idilic childhoods, the group, under Mike’s direction begins their own individual and assumedly, by their deep psychological bond, group quests to find out what’s been gnawing at them for the past 27 years. The quests that each IT team member follows is somewhat rote but nonetheless filled with jump-scares aplenty. While silly on their face (naked old lady, lumberjack statue, and pharmacist with a weirdly long tongue) each encounter manufactures a gaggle of scares, but unfortunately, it’s really just the same scare repeated over and over. They’re good, but you can see the jump scare train pulling in to Derry about a mile away. 

In the final act of It: Chapter Two, team IT comes face-to-face with a big Pennywise, a medium Pennywise, and little Pennywise. Fans of Pennywise will rejoice with ample clown cameos, but those that aren’t frightened by Pennywise, or who are actually trying to follow Muschietti’s re-imagination of King’s 1,138 page-treatise, are left with more questions than answers.  Again,  Muschietti is put in the unenviable position of sorting out the Ritual Of Chüd, space aliens that may/may not have crashed in Derry millions of years ago, native American liturgy, and the deadlights.  While he gives it the college try, none of these items are fully elucidated.  

Muschietti does have a fun time trying piece apart King’s opus. It: Chapter Two has some legitimate scares, superb casting/acting, and a loving and non-hamfisted treatment of late 1980s pop-culture lore. It: Chapter Two looks great and moves a stunning pace, but the film never truly gets to the heart of the question. It pokes and prods around the edges, but more often than not, it doesn’t really tell you what IT is about, and that makes IT a long way around a very long yarn. 

Eric’s Review: ★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

I welcome a movie like It: Chapter Two with arms wide open. In an era where cinemas need to pack audiences in with the spectacle of the blockbuster film, it is important that when an R-rated horror movie becomes a much-anticipated form on which to hang the hopes of the genre, that it’s good. And it is much to my relief that It: Chapter Two is indeed pretty good. It’s not awesome, but it delivers on what is promised. And honestly, it had some hurdles to clear.

This installment had to follow the lead of some fabulously charismatic teen actors and what many consider to be the strongest aspect of the book, the tales of the Losers Club as kids. It also has to deal with an extremely popular, but unwieldy tome from Stephen King, who dabbled into some pretty trippy shit when he wrote this book. Minor spoiler alert for book fans: No giant space turtle. That’s probably for the best. And, the story also had to deal with something that the movie actually references in meta-framing… Stephen King often struggles to stick the landing of the book. That’s not unusual. Ask George R.R. Martin is doing with that Game of Thrones finale.

So, let’s start where the film really succeeds. The casting director nailed the physical likeness of the teen actors, with the possible exception of Ben, who both in the book and in the movie has transformed physically from the chubby adorable kid (Jeremy Ray Taylor) to serious man-hunk material (Jay Ryan) as an adult. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Isiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, James Ransone, and Andy Bean are all credible grown-up versions of their younger selves. Moreover, they also capture the character beats that the younger actors placed before them. Particularly impressive were Ransome and Hader, as they really inhabited the characters created by Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Glazer. The actors were spot on throughout the film, effectively conveying the emotional magnitude necessary for this epic.

The chemistry of the cast is great too. I know that in the book, and in the TV series the Ben-Beth-Bill love triangle is more pronounced, but I appreciated the way they handle this aspect of the story. It’s subtler, and less melodramatic than the TV show, for certain. Also, the Richie and Eddie story was expertly done as well. Hader, it should be pointed out emerges from his comedic background and really acts his ass off in this movie; providing the beating heart of this chapter. The scene at the Chinese restaurant that closes Act I is awesome as it puts all that acting chemistry on display. So good.

Another area that really worked is that there are honest-to-goodness real jump scares in this movie. I can’t exactly pinpoint why, but even when they telegraph the scare, I found myself flinching and my body went cold, hairs on end. That NEVER happens to me in movies anymore. The opening sequence is a vicious and heartbreaking scene as well, reminding you of the horror that you witnessed two years ago. The film has a good budget, and the visuals of the movie hold up really well, and Pennywise fans, as Mike has mentioned, will be happy with his appearances.

Now, for the not great part. You should not be able to feel the plot mechanics so much in a tale like this. There is a very mechanical feel to the way the story reveals itself, and a lot of that is due to the quantity of characters in the story, each of whom is given a segment, and then we move on to the next character until we get through all the Losers. This mechanic gets repeated often in the movie, making a lot of the dynamic beats predictable. As enjoyable as some of the scares are early, with repetition, you can see each of the characters go through a similar challenge. It’s clunky and stiff.

Also, the movie is LONG. Too long. Mike and I discussed after watching this, that the movie could have potentially been one movie, though I suspect it would have needed to be a three-hour film. I felt that there were a number of flashbacks that were placed in this chapter to remind those who may have forgotten what some of the issues the kids had to struggle with. Much of that could have been jettisoned. Also, the Henry Bowers sub-plot, though it is a key element in the book gets short shrift here, and doesn’t play a significant role in the film, though it does chew up usable time. It could have used some additional exposition as to what Pennywise is telling Bowers, and most importantly WHY.

For all the plotting and exposition that the film goes through, it does not handle the nature of Pennywise in a satisfying way. The Native American ritual feels like a gigantic MacGuffin. A goal that requires each of the Losers to find their own sacrificial totem, but in the end, it just enables the clunky mechanic described before. And lastly, I would have really liked better handling of the new victims of Derry. Pennywise’s terrifying encounters with the locals is really well done, but there is zero reaction from the town. The carnival must go on! In this way, it shows that Muschietti was using these incidences as a way to show the Power of Pennywise without killing any of the main cast in the second act.

The irony of the “Can’t finish the story” plays through in Chapter Two as well. It’s not awful, it just isn’t focused, and seems a bit of a repeat of the first movie. I did appreciate the inclusion of an important letter as the denouement. And, I left the theater feeling pretty satisfied overall.

This film had a lot of pressure to succeed, both critically and at the box office. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie made $185 million, which is MONSTROUS for a September release, so mission accomplished for the latter question. And I think that there is so much right with this movie that it overcomes the mechanical narrative hiccups inherent to the original text. So, good on you Warner Brothers and Andy Muschietti. You produced a (lightly flawed) winner. If WB manages to put this much effort and heart into horror movies in the future, we may be graced with more big-budget and well-acted offerings, and investment in good horror properties has to be elevated by movies like It: Chapter Two.

It: Chapter Two is rated R, for strong violent content and language, gore, and terrifying sequences. Probably OK for teens. I would put it about a 16 on the Scariest Things Bridge Too Far Meter. Little kids not so much. And, the movie is playing everywhere and should be in the theaters for quite a while.

Reviews by Mike Campbell and Eric Li

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