It Chapter Two
An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.
So the jokes about Stephen King’s original ending, which include both a Peter Bogdanovich cameo and one by Stephen himself, fail to pay off in any kind of “We got it right this time” way (essentially, the Losers mock Pennywise to death). Although, to be honest, I’m unclear which ending/ aspect thereof they’re referencing – the unfilmable kids’ orgy, the final ending, or the giant space turtle. Or maybe just endings being a King bugbear full stop (in which case, it’s either quite sporting of him to mock himself, or he’s a shameless publicity whore). Indeed, I’d even argue the effect of an attempt to improve it is an adverse one; the lack of anything as supremely whacky as a creator space turtle rather underlines how drably literal and unadorned Andre Muschietti’s sequel is.
There’s the occasional shot here that feels inspired – the one we saw in the trailers of Pennywise aloft via myriad balloons – but three hours of stir-and-repeat “scare” sequences, in which the kids and their adult versions are not-that-inventively threatened, gets tiring very quickly. Particularly so in the same successive form of having learned nothing from the past and being sucked in once again (the most irritating in this regard is Bill doing the classic horror plot no-no of running off on his own, ending up in the funfair hall of mirrors).
Beverly’s visit to her old home actually does vaguely muster a genuinely creepy vibe – albeit spoiled in one of the early extended trailers – even if it owes a massive debt to In the Mouth of Madness. Even there, however, any shock value quickly dissipates in the face of Muschietti’s devotion to rendering the objects of the Losers’ horror via CGI. I even began to wonder if the director was getting a bit bored with it all, hence the shamelessly rubbish The Thing homage (if that felt naff, I admittedly did like the oddball needle drop during Eddie’s apparition scenario in the pharmacy basement, but it seemed to come from a completely director, as if Sam Raimi had mooched by the editing room).
I have a feeling Chapter Two would have been considerably less monotonous had Bill Skarsgård managed to create an actually iconic villain. Obviously, he’s got to live up to Tim Curry’s incarnation, who managed to impact a generation, regardless of how good the mini-series actually was overall. Skarsgård may deliver a few decent tics, but he fails to instil either fear or embody a character you enjoy for their malignancy (à la Freddy, or Hannibal Lecter). The knowledge that any Pennywise scene will very quickly devolve into an approximation of him by way of pixels further lets the air out of his big red balloon.
So much so, any Chapter Two sequences that genuinely work tend to be ones where he’s barely involved. The opening hate crime is entirely compelling until he shows up, as is the Chinese restaurant sequence (up to the point where the fortune cookies start spitting out weird creatures, as if the effects team have got all mixed up with The Mist). And the fairly brief appearances by Henry Bowers – to the extent that he almost seems to be an ineffectual afterthought – carry a genuine air of menace.
The new ensemble play the adult versions of the Losers serviceably, but crucially, none of them are as memorable as their younger selves. Bill Hader and James Ransome come across best, but then Muschietti will throw in a flashback to Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer bantering and you’re under no illusions as to who’s coming out tops. Jessica Chastain (too resourcefully steely), James McAvoy (too theatrically stuttery) and Isaiah Mustafa (too tied down to being the exposition machine) are just “okay”. The depressing theme of being unable to escape one’s past, being dragged back down into one’s emotional history, no matter what cosmetic changes one has made – ideally, Jerry O’Connell would have played adult Ben – might have had some juice, but the picture’s far too rudimentary in tone and approach to engage effectively on that level.
Perhaps if Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman hadn’t decided the unparalleled success of the first film entitled them to a more-is-more approach, we’d have ended up with something considerably more economical and so more effective. But I’m doubtful. The slimmer It Chapter Two might have been, the more it would likely have reminded us of how little there really was left to work with, once Chapter One was done and dusted. Filling it out at least encourages the passing illusion that there’s substance here – and, accordingly, merit. The picture might be worth revisiting in an extended cut, if that cut manages to embrace the same structural approach as King’s novel. Until that happens, It Chapter Two will remain a stiff.