In a way, Andy Muschietti’s IT Chapter Two is the most faithful Stephen King adaptation to-date. This is because it has an interesting premise with fantastic characters who are thrown into a bloated, drug-out story with an exhaustive middle section and an underwhelming conclusion.
IT: Chapter Two takes place 27 years of the events of IT (2017) and features the original seven kids who made up the original Losers’ Club. They have each gone their separate ways and seem to have mysteriously forgotten all about the horrors they faced in the summer of ’89, but are drawn back to Derry after grotesque and mysterious killings begin again. The adult Losers are Bill (played by James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stan (Andy Bean).
First, a focus on the good: the adult Losers’ Club. I was mixed at first with their quick introductions, but each of the new actors did an excellent job of filling the shoes left by their child actor counterparts. Specific standout performances were James McAvoy, who is played the stuttering leader Bill with not only emotion, but ticks and physicality; Bill Hader, who feels like he was born for the role of being the wise-cracking smartass Richie; and Jessica Chastain, who made Bev feel simultaneously like the bravest member of the Club while also the most vulnerable when it comes to retreading the past. Another noteworthy performance, though not a member of the Club, was Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, the preferred form of the titular IT and the 27-year thorn in the Losers’ sides. While not in this film as much as the previous one, Skarsgård stole every scene that he was in with his helium-sounding voice and acting style that makes Pennywise feel like he isn’t all there, both in a psychological and physical sense.
Now, on to the unfortunately longer section of the bad. As a massive Stephen King fan I had been worried about this movie since it was announced. The original book has a much stronger focus on the kids’ section, with most of the adult section being comprised of reminiscing flashbacks to the Losers’ childhood. This movie tried to replicate that, but in doing so it feels like it can’t stand on its own as much as it should. Because of this reliance on flashbacks the entire middle section feels like an exhaustive barrage to each Loser, who then hands over most of their individual screen time to their childhood counterpart. And there are just so many cheap scares. Every scene of someone quietly creeping through a basement or examining a seemingly inconspicuous sewer drain ends, predictably, with a CGI monster jumping out and attacking them. Eventually you just stop caring about what you’re watching and are ready for the movie to pick up again and get to the climax.
Speaking of which. Without spoiling anything, the final battle with IT is underwhelming and unnecessarily drawn-out. Not only does the movie feel the need to throw in even more individual mini-scares with each Loser, but the actual final confrontation with IT itself just feels silly. Readers of the book will be disappointed, and first-time viewers will feel as though something else should have happened, or that there was something missing. The original book ending was a mess, but it would have been interesting to see in motion, to say the least. Instead what we got felt like a cop-out, or that the writers couldn’t figure out a better way to handle things.
So what went wrong? IT (2017) was an excellent coming-of-age story that told the child section of the book concisely but accurate enough. As previously stated, the adult section of the book was comprised of more flashbacks to the Losers’ childhoods, so splitting the two sections into two movies was creating complications before production even started. A lot would have to be added by the writers, and what was added was, unfortunately, cheap and boring. And the original book’s ending would have admittedly been almost impossible to pull off visually, it is one of the biggest sections of the book where the effects of Stephen King’s cocaine addiction shows itself. However, the problems in this movie go beyond the weak source material. The movie’s overuse of CGI monsters and jump scares makes any tense moment near the end lose most of its tension. Instead of having you on the edge of your seat, IT: Chapter Two forces you from prolonged scene to scene, asking yourself when it will end.