I’m “biast” (con): hated the first movie
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
There’s a running “joke” — it’s unfunny, hence I must employ sarcastic quotation marks — throughout It: Chapter Two about how Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy: X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Glass) is a rich and famous and successful and acclaimed novelist whose books are adapted by big Hollywood studios and he gets to write the screenplays himself and yet also the endings of all of his novels are so legendarily shit that everyone hates them, and even Hollywood pressures him to change them for the “better” for the movies based on his books.
The many instances of This Never Happens going on here are extraordinary, but what raises this to the level of Actually Egregious is that all of this would appear — in the screenplay by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation, Annabelle), and not by Stephen King, upon whose novel this is based — to be an attempt to forestall any complaints about the ending of It: Chapter Two. Because it is somewhat different from the ending of King’s novel, which has been split into two parts, the first of which was the 2017 movie It.
Now, I haven’t read It the novel. I’m a big King fan, and while I haven’t read everything he’s written, I’ve liked or loved all of his work that I have read. But I can certainly read a synopsis of the novel, which I have, from multiple sources. Normally this is not something I would do, because a movie adaptation of a book should stand on its own, regardless of what’s in the book. And I was only moved to do this only because of the blatant efforts by this film, from its opening scene onward, seemingly to deflect any complaints about its ending.
(Did readers not like the ending of King’s novel when it was published in the 1980s? I have no idea. King himself has a cameo in this movie that suggests that he approves of the whole “the ending in the book was shit so let’s fix it” motif, so who knows.)
Anyway, such attempts are justified because — ironically! — the ending of It: Chapter Two is as shit as, it would seem, those of any of Bill’s books. I’m no purist when it comes to how closely a film should adhere to the book it’s based on, and obviously I have no investment in the It novel, never having read it, but I can see a shit ending to a movie when I see it. This one feels like it has been pulled out of someone’s ass — screenwriter Dauberman’s, I suppose — for reasons that I cannot comprehend. At least its pointless randomness does slot right into the two movies’ accidental contention that an evil spirit/alien/monster/whatever-the-fuck-Pennywise-the-clown-is-supposed-to-be would wreak arbitrary havoc on whomever she/he/it has targeted. That’s just what she/he/it does. Somehow, though, this doesn’t feel like a positive justification.
Christ, these two movies are a godawful mess, and this one is a bigger misfire than its predecessor. Everyone who defended the first movie by telling us detractors that we just had to wait for the sequel has much to answer for.
If you haven’t seen It, nothing much here will make much sense. And it still doesn’t, really, even if you have. Quick recap anyway: Back in 1989, a junior-high gang of friends who’d dubbed themselves the Losers’ Club battled Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård: Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde), who wanted to eat their faces or something. That was 2017’s It, an unscary, unintentional pastiche of 1980s kiddie adventures (think The Goonies meets Stand by Me times Poltergeist). Now, 27 years later, they are all summoned back to their hometown of Derry, Maine — one of King’s repeated fictional locales — by Mike (Isaiah Mustafa: The Three Stooges), the only member of the Club who never left home, because Pennywise seems to be up to her/his/its old murderous tricks again. The Club had all vowed to return should their supernatural nemesis ever rear her/his/its painted face again, but this is complicated by the fact that they all had forgotten their childhoods in Derry. Worse, they’d all forgotten that they’d forgotten.
Something something something about how childhood trauma impacts the rest of one’s life, and how repressed memories are never truly repressed, etc, etc. Also later, something something something about how memories — and monsters! — whether they’re remembered or repressed, only have the power over you that you grant them. All true, to a certain degree… but Chapter Two ultimately wants to have its empowerment cake and eat it, too. Positive thinking cannot overcome all the terrors that oppress us, no matter how hard we might wish for it, or how much work we put into it. It almost beggars belief that Chapter Two posits the feel-good self-care denouement that it does. It’s almost dangerous in its suggestion that there are no real monsters, no real oppression that keeps us down.
And yet, a muddled message is the least of It: Chapter Two’s missteps. If only it were genuinely scary! But this unsupportably overlong — almost three hours! — exercise in unironically trotting out genre clichés bypasses every opportunity to acknowledge its utter obviousness, the roteness of its tropes. For here we literally run a gamut of every kind of scary-movie nonsense — a killer clown, a disorienting hall of mirrors in a carnival funhouse, an actual haunted house, a mysterious “Indian ritual,” a sea of blood, multiple eldritch spidery creatures, and more — as well as other down-to-earth terrors: abusive parents, bullying schoolkids. Yet for all of its extreme length, Chapter Two barely gives room for a truly great cast — which also features Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game, Miss Sloane), Bill Hader (The Angry Birds Movie 2, Toy Story 4), James Ransone (Gemini, Sinister 2), Jay Ryan, and Andy Bean (Allegiant) — to do much beyond scream and gasp at what is happening around them, which plays like random scary stuff rather than horrors keyed to their specific anxieties, which we’re allegedly meant to see as the case.
This is a movie that attempts, say, via an occasionally overbearing score, to make ominous a couple of guys climbing stairs in a place that even the movie concedes isn’t dangerous. It deploys, in places, weird and confusing edits that attempt to create a sense of urgency but instantly peter out. It has characters running around, arriving in different places for no reason other than plot necessity. It is abusive itself, even as it wants to condemn abuse: naked old women are nothing but scary; fat women are objects of ridicule, but a fat boy deserves our sympathy. (Do the male filmmakers not see sexism as abusive?) It’s all preposterously dated, too: Chapter Two insists that homophobic violence is bad (as it is), but also that being gay is a “dirty secret.” (This may be an artifact of the original 1980s setting of this second half of the story, the grownup half, but then just delete it for this 2010s-set adaptation. This “dirty secret” nonsense adds nothing here.) There’s little sense of a small town under siege, or even any kind of basic civic authenticity at all: All the returnees are staying at a Derry B&B that announces “no vacancy,” and yet the place seems otherwise abandoned. And if there’s any potential for making red balloons chilling, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) has not found it.
The only terrifying thing here is how tedious It: Chapter Two is, and what a trial it is to sit through it.
• It movie review: a series of unfortunate events