I confess that I’ve never read Stephen King’s novel, It, nor have I seen the 1990 TV miniseries based on it (I was like, 8 years old at the time). So when I saw the 2017 film version of It, that was my first full exposure to the story. I was thoroughly entertained and quite excited for the sequel teased at the end, which I did not know was coming (I simply assumed that the TV miniseries got stretched out because of commercials). The movie even holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first movie date I had with my girlfriend, who doesn’t like going to movies nearly as much as I do (though she comes with me often and tolerates my habit).
What a sad state then to see that the long-awaited sequel, It Chapter Two, will contend for a spot among the worst films of the year.
There are three truly good things about the film, which I’ll mention right here to get them out of the way. And funnily enough, they all have to do with my namesake. When he gets to be pure Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård is still deliciously creepy. He even gets a few more predatory moments in clown form than the last film, so we get a little bit of extended fun. Similarly, James McAvoy as the adult Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell returns in child form) is a charismatic lead, with whom the audience can generally empathize, though his stammer has no degree of consistency. Finally, Bill Hader as the adult Richie Tozier (a job he secured thanks to child version Finn Wolfhard) steals just about every scene he’s in, delivering genuinely funny comic relief and one-liners throughout.
Apart from those three Bill-centric things, this movie is awful. There’s a running gag about Bill, now a successful author, not being able to properly end his stories. Several people, from Hollywood directors (Peter Bogdanovich in an eye roll-inducing cameo) to antique store clerks (Stephen King himself in a vomit-inducing cameo; this movie tries to out Stan Lee the MCU for Christ’s sake!) give him some degree of, “I like your stuff. I just hated the ending.” My girlfriend and I were in the audience adding, “And the beginning… and also the middle… and everything in between.”
Just about everything that made the previous film so much fun is dashed to pieces in the sequel. Now again, I haven’t read the book, nor have I seen the 1990 miniseries. But that doesn’t matter. The things I’m about to complain about may be in one or both of those previous works, and they may have worked within those contexts, but here, in this movie, they most assuredly did not.
The film opens in 2016 (one of the things I really like about this version is modernizing the timeline in both films) at a carnival in Derry. Some local bullies see a gay couple and beat the more effeminate of the two within an inch of his life, then throw him in a river, where his boyfriend sees Pennywise pick him up and chomp him. I learned on the local news this morning that this is indeed in the book, so it’s fine to use for the adaptation, at least on a conceptual level. Part of the problem here is that it’s arguably anachronistic to have that extreme of a hate crime happen in such an open space in 2016. In 1987, it makes perfect sense, but while such horrors still exist, they’re not nearly as pervasive now, especially not in a more socially progressive state like Maine. Really, all the bullying in both films suffers from this issue. The real sin, though, is that the opening kill of the last film was a good, slow burn, firmly establishing Bill, Georgie, and Pennywise’s characters (at least as far as they needed to be), before the shock moment of the clown’s strike. Here, it’s just two randoms we know nothing about who get beat up, and one of them dies. There’s no pathos here, no connection for the audience. There’s more development with the little girl who the victim plays against in the carnival game, as she becomes a target later on.
What follows is one of the most confusing montages I’ve seen put to film, as Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa in adult form, Chosen Jacobs as a child), now living in the Derry library, calls all the members of the Losers Club to summon them back home, making good on their blood oath at the end of the last film to reunite and kill Pennywise for good if he ever resurfaced. Bill is married to an actress working on the film adaptation of one of his books, but he can’t figure out a way to change his own ending. Richie is a world-famous stand-up comic. Eddie (James Ransone as the adult to Jack Dylan Grazer’s kid form) works in New York City and is married to a woman exactly like his mother (I swear you could insert Mrs. Wolowitz lines from The Big Bang Theory every time she talks). Ben (Jay Ryan) has grown into a buff architect who still has Jeremy Ray Taylor’s heart of gold. Adult Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) is married and successful, but still harbors the old fears he had when he was Wyatt Oleff. Finally, Bev March has grown up from Sophia Lillis’ Molly Ringwald cuteness to full-blown Jessica Chastain hotness, which is sadly wasted as a trophy wife to an abusive mogul.
What makes these introductions so frustrating is the editing. Just about every trite scene transition possible is thrown at the screen throughout the movie, seemingly just to prove the editors can do it. Shaky cam vibrations, mirror image crossfades, pans and zooms to put an adult version in the kid version’s memories, focusing on a prop or decorative wall then cutting to a similar design in another location. They do it all with no consistency whatsoever, and because we haven’t seen these characters for two years, we’re left to scramble to figure out who’s who (with the obvious exceptions of the one woman and the one racial minority). I loved the last movie, but it still took 20 minutes for me to figure out who everyone was, especially when one member of the group breaks the oath, because those scenes are spliced together in such a fucked up way as to make it seem like a dream sequence or a fantasy rather than an actual advancement of the plot.
The group, minus one, reunites in Derry for the first of many scenes of reminiscing and cheap scares, this one revolving around fortune cookies that turn into little monsters and alert the Losers that Pennywise is already onto their little plan, which involves sacrificing tokens and artifacts of their past in some Native Indian thingy and destroying it. Mike did nearly three decades of research on the origins of Pennywise, and this is what he came up with? Really?
As the gang splits up to find their relics (which Eddie and Richie both note is a terrible idea in a horror movie), the movie does two incredibly stupid things, both seemingly there to pad the runtime, which was most decidedly not needed, as this movie lasts an exhausting 2 hours, 50 minutes. First, Pennywise helps spring the adult Henry Bowers (Teach Grant, grown up from Nicholas Hamilton’s teenage form) from the mental hospital where he’s been since killing his father, and sets him loose to hunt the group. While this may have actually happened in the book (and in the miniseries, as evidenced by the CinemaSins videos), it serves no purpose in this film’s story, and the way he shows up out of nowhere makes less sense than trying to shit pennies.
Second, each of the Losers has another encounter with Pennywise as they collect their things. I’m okay with that in theory, but structurally it’s extremely awkward, as the adult encounters are cross cut with scares when they were kids. Except that these aren’t the scare scenes we saw in the first movie. These are entirely new attacks that somehow must have happened before the final events of the first movie, because Pennywise was defeated and stayed dormant for another 27 years. Yet none of these bits are mentioned or even hinted at in the last movie. One would think these would be crucial moments to the plot, but they just seem tacked on for more cheap CGI and jump scares (way more than there were in the last movie, where the attacks, while not particularly scary, at least had some Freddy Krueger-esque camp appeal and good production values).
For all the flashbacks and nostalgia trips, including multiple scenes from the first movie, why not just cut back to the previous moments and give us a greatest hits version? It saves the post-production team a lot of man hours and money, and it still gets the point across. Save the new stuff for the adult scares, which are weird, but sometimes effective, like Richie getting an invitation to his own funeral, or Beverly encountering an old woman in her former apartment that turns sinister, at least until we see the CGI form of It that just made me think of the “Nekked Gramma” outtake from Family Feud.
Seriously, why are these new attacks even here? The movie talks about the Losers not remembering their fateful childhood summer as adults, but that was because they moved away from Derry, and Pennywise’s power faded with distance. But even then, that explanation doesn’t work, because again, these new scares have to have happened before Pennywise was beaten the first time, which means in the moment, all their memories are still intact. They haven’t forgotten anything yet. That first movie happened basically in real time, so memory loss wasn’t a thing at that point. And even if that did work, Mike never left Derry, so he could remind everyone of everything instantly.
The actual scenes are structured to parallel with the scares they get as adults, but the execution is so slapdash that it doesn’t merit that deep of a connection. For example, Eddie has a flashback where he’s at the pharmacy and his mother calls to him from the basement, where she’s strapped in and being experimented on, leading to a Pennywise encounter that surely should have had some bearing on the outcome of the first movie. Okay, why does Eddie even fall for this? He’s smart enough to know that can’t be real, but he goes along with it anyway because… reasons. As an adult, he just goes down there, and oh look, there’s a zombie thing wanting to tangle with him. Eddie somehow chokes it out, to the point that it vomits some sort of goo onto him while “Angel of the Morning” inexplicably plays in the background. Is this supposed to be a Deadpool reference or something? Literally, the song cuts in at the moment of gusher splatter, then cuts away as soon as the slow motion gross-out is done. No explanation, no context, no point. Why?
On a grander level, the film sends some pretty bad messages. Part of why the first film worked is because the kids banded together, accepted each other for who they were, and found strength in one another. That strength, those bonds, allowed them to fight Pennywise (and bullies like Bowers) without fear, the one thing he feeds on, to save themselves and the town. This time around, however? Not to spoil too much, but in a story so chock full of bullying, the bullied have to become bullies themselves in order to win. We’re literally given “negging” as a possible solution. Are you fucking kidding me? Also, a moment that’s supposed to have emotional resonance is essentially played as painting suicide as the noble option, and I’m never going to be okay with that.
I get the feeling that Warner Bros. (which fakes you out in the beginning of the film with a logo zoom that turns into a tacked on ad for Margot Robbie’s upcoming Harley Quinn movie – assholes) and New Line realized they had a winner on their hands with the first It movie while it was still in production, and quickly got the sequel green lit. Then, after the film did so well, they realized that anyone who liked the first one would have to pay to see the next one, just to see how the story ends. I’m one of those people. As such, they basically decided to throw everything they could at the screen, even if none of it stuck, because the audience was already bound to hand over their money. This isn’t technically a case where the studio split a film in two (see: Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay, etc.) to double the box office intake, but it might as well be.
This has all the earmarks of a cynical Hollywood cash grab. All the emotional resonance and character development of the first film got tossed out the window in favor of cheap cameos. Apart from Bill Hader and James McAvoy, none of the adult Losers displays anything approaching the acting ability or charisma of their childhood counterparts, and that includes Jessica Chastain, who I love, but here she’s little more than a wet blanket and an object of affection in an ill-advised love triangle between Bill, who is married, and Ben, who now has value because he’s no longer fat. Bill Skarsgård is still fun when the movie lets him be, but most of the horror is just shoddy jump scares and entry-level CGI that would’ve looked dated 10 years ago. The editing is all over the place, the plot has basically no structure, and the whole affair is stretched out way longer than it needed to be.
I had such high hopes for this movie, and while it has a few good elements, the let down drops it lower than other lazy bad movies that have come out this year. It’s like a deflated balloon. You like balloons, don’t you, Georgie? And cotton candy?
Well, go somewhere else, because this was just crap.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What’s the most disappointing sequel you’ve ever seen? How did Georgie’s boat not decompose after 27 years in a sewer? Let me know!