Movie Review: IT Chapter 2 (Spoiler Free).
Can the second part of Stephen King’s IT deliver on the sky-high expectations created by its predecessor?
2017’s adaptation of Stephen King’s IT shattered records, and expectations, when it debuted. It was gorgeous, scary, and riveting. Unlike a lot of adaptations of King’s work, it was good. Andy Muschietti’s film came out of left field with its bright, young cast and electric performance from antagonist Bill Skarsgard. Now, the sequel is here. This weekend we’ll round up the staff to do a deep discussion of our thoughts on the conclusion to the two-part series. For now, we’ll answer the big question: how does it stack up against the phenomenal first part?
IT Chapter 2 (2019).
Twenty seven years ago, a rag-tag group of children banded together against the supernatural monster Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). They thought they had killed it. They were wrong. Now, as adults, the Loser’s Club must return to Derry to do battle again. Can they destroy the killer clown for good, or will the horrors they’ve seen destroy the bonds of friendship that helped them to win their first encounter?
Is IT a Good Story?
The tricky part of adapting King’s story is that it is cut neatly in half between the events of the past and the future. As we noted in our review of the TV mini-series, one half of that story is intrinsically more compelling than the other. A creepy clown menacing children has more emotional voltage than a guy in grease paint trying to terrify adults. Presenting the story chronologically, the first part has far more uncertainty. The stakes are higher, and you don’t have a roadmap for how it is going to play out. By the time we get to the adult story, we’ve got more knowledge, which can rob the story of some tension. Prosaically, we also know that our heroes CAN win – they’ve done it once before, when they were presumably in a much weaker position.
Chapter 2 handles these problems deftly. Muschietti and his adult cast make a crucial change to the emotional states of the heroes. In the first film, our protagonists were scared. In the second film, they are haunted. That subtle change brings a whole different tone to the proceedings. They may be bigger and stronger physically now, but the insidious effect of all they went through has made them much more vulnerable emotionally. To that effect, we get a lot of great acting out of the cast that puts this front and center. By re-framing the stakes, Chapter 2 gets to tell a good story that compliments the first film.
Is IT Scary?
Plain and simple, Chapter 2 is not as scary as Chapter 1. First, the original film did a great job of keeping its cards close to its vest. We didn’t see much Pennywise in the promotional material. We didn’t know how he would look. We didn’t know how he would act. We didn’t know how he killed. We didn’t yet know what an absolute clinic Bill Skarsgard was going to put on when it came to inhabiting the character. We know a lot of that stuff now, and while the second does some nice variations on the methods and visuals of the first, it is still familiar enough to lack the utter shock the first film gave when we saw Pennywise commit his first horrific act.
Second, the creature work is not as unique and inventive in the second film. Each monster in the first (except that stupid Mummy!) was indelible. They stuck with you. It had that ineffable quality that makes you see them out of the corner of your mind’s eye when you climb into bed. Very few of the monsters in the second film rise to that level. Bill Skarsgard is still a complete beast when it comes to making Pennywise an eldritch horror, but the bugbears he summons to torment our heroes in the second film are mostly forgettable. I don’t even think the second film gets the same voltage out of its gore and kills. They’re not bad, but they’re not the nightmare fuel the first film soaked us in.
Is IT Funny?
Chapter 2 gets more mileage out of its humor than the first chapter. I didn’t find Richie to be very funny in the first film; more annoying actually. Bill Hader as adult Richie hits the comedic beats much better. There’s still the character notes of inappropriate or crass jokes, but they land more often than they flop. He’s helped in that the jokes are also better spread around. James Ransone really picks up the slack, as he’s not only a better foil to Richie as adult Eddie, but the rapport between them also works better as adult characters. Their relationship also sets up many of the more heartfelt moments of the second chapter.
There are more jokes in the second film, overall. I think it was a wise choice. Things that were scary for the kids to experience would be less so for the adults, and humor defuses that disconnect. Sometimes you’re encouraged to laugh at the reactions they have to the monsters. It’s a bit of psychological jiu jitsu. It also keeps you guessing. A monster that seems laughable can suddenly become deadly serious to good effect.
Is IT Closer to the Source?
Yes and No. Muschietti uses the book as a guiding star, but freely changes things to fit his vision. Chapter 1 really changed some things around, mostly for the best. This Chapter tacks a bit closer to the source, even if just to reference iconic bits from the book. Not all of the book stuff gets used, or used in the same way as King did, but I found the nods to be a nice touch. At the end of the day, Muschietti definitely has his own take on the material, and if you like how that worked in the original, you’re not going to dislike it in the sequel.
Is IT Good?
The first film rightly deserves all of the glory it achieved. The second chapter couldn’t reasonably hope to catch that lightning in a bottle twice. But it comes close. It certainly tells a rich and engaging story that concludes the series well. More importantly, it does its own things well. I enjoyed the subtle shifts in tone and stakes. I liked the character arcs and interactions. I like that Skarsgard was given the chance to really take center stage as Pennywise. The adult cast did a great job – and didn’t erase the contributions that the fantastic young cast set up for them. For those who miss the kids, Muschietti provides plenty of screen time for them to show their chops one last time. I can’t wait to get the box set and watch both movies back to back, to appreciate the similarities and differences. All in all, IT Chapter 2 was a solid conclusion to the series that satisfied.