By Contributing Writer Jake Hunsinger
I absolutely adore Stephen King, and IT is by far my favorite of his works. So when I first learned that an IT movie was being made, I was thrilled. And a little concerned.
The original book, published in 1986, is over 1,100 pages of intense and oftentimes convoluted story of the children of the Losers Club. In IT, King explores themes of childhood, fear, growing up, sex,guilt, etc. The heavy stuff that culminates in a beautiful, horrifying, and sometimes awkward mess that you can only get from Stephen King.Despite the daunting source material, IT Chapter I was a solid movie that stands on its own.Chapter II however, needs some help.
IT Chapter II takes place 27 years after the events of the first movie. IT has returned and children are going missing in Derry once again. The all grown up Losers Club must return to their hometown finally defeat IT once and for all at the behest of Mike Hanlon, who is the only member to have remained in Derry.
The grown-up Losers are played by a star-studded cast. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain convincingly inhabited their roles as grown up Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh. This was expected as both are great dramatic actors with plenty of accolades from their previous films.
Jay Ryan does well enough as a grown-up Ben Hanscom, though he is less convincing than the other two. The surprising breakout performances of the movie come from Bill Hader and James Ransone, who play foul mouthed Richie Tozier and hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrack respectively, bringing a lot of life and energy to the group dynamic.
Bill Skarsgard’s performance as IT, who takes on the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, again consistently frightens and intrigues audiences. The number of jump scares becomes tedious, with the real horror and unease coming from the scenes where Pennywise is taunting the Losers or trying to lure children to their doom.
The Losers and IT’s performances were incredibly strong and helped keep interest for the entire three hour run time(more on that later). It was very easy to believe that we were watching the Losers all grown up, capitalizing on the emotional investment viewers made from the previous movie. Everything continues and flows very well in the context of Chapter I. It’s without that context that things become weak. SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT!
We are reintroduced to the Losers club with the expectation that we already know who they are. If you didn’t see Chapter I or you just don’t remember much from it then you are already at a huge disadvantage. When the adult losers begin to remember the events from the past and take on characteristics from their childhood (James McAvoy assumes Bill Denbrough’s stutter), Another weakness is that our introduction to Pennywise is rather abrupt and not impactful. As we watch in horror as a gay couple is attacked by four assailants in the opening scene, we aren’t actually thinking about Pennywise. When he shows up at the end to eat the heart of one of the couple, it seems out of place. As if it was supposed to remind you that he was in the movie.
We don’t get to see much of a grownup Stanley Uris. It makes sense seeing as he kills himself in the first thirty minutes of the movie, but still. He isn’t the only loser to get neglected, as Mike Hanlon only exists more for exposition purposes rather than to fulfill and complete the arc as he did in the first movie. He explains the Ritual of Chud, IT’s true background, and how to defeat IT.
The sadistic bully and IT’s servant, Henry Bowers, is denied the full use of potential in the story. Instead, he only exists to add an extra level of unnecessary suspense and a get a few uncomfortable laughs. He shows up, wounds Eddie by stabbing him in the face, tries to kill Mike, and is ultimately dealt with pretty quickly.
In the second act, the Losers set off to find artifacts linked to their childhoods so they can burn them in the ritual to defeat IT. The fantastic child cast from Chapter I return in the form of these flashbacks, which are important for putting the children’s fears into context but also derail the pace of the movie. Side note, a de-aged Finn Wolfhard can be jarring, at times, to say the least.
IT Chapter II succeeds as a heartwarming story about the power friendship and overcoming absolute horror. It’s a good movie overall, but falls short of being a good horror movie in particular. It is also very long and expects a lot from you.Final score, B-on its own, B+ in the context of Chapter I.