James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell - Bill Denbrough
Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis - Beverly Marsh
Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor - Ben Hanscom
Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard - Richie Dozier
Isaiah Mustafa/Chosen Jacobs - Mike Hanlon
James Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer - Eddie Kaspbrak
Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff - Stanley Uris
Bill Skarsgard - Pennywise the Dancing Clown
Teach Grant/Nicholas Hamilton - Henry Bowers
Genre - Horror/Supernatural
Running Time - 169 Minutes
27 years after overcoming the malevolent supernatural entity Pennywise, the former members of the Losers’ Club, who have grown up and moved away from Derry, are brought back together by a devastating phone call.
Besides AVENGERS: ENDGAME, IT: CHAPTER TWO was probably my most anticipated film of 2019. Having read the novel, still enjoying Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise in the 1990’s TV miniseries and loving the 2017 adaptation of the first part of the story, I was very excited for the last part of the IT story to hit the big screen. With mainly the same crew behind the project and casting some great choices to play the grown-up versions of the younger cast, I was hoping for nothing but the best with the new adaptation to a flawed portion of the novel. And I gotta say - IT: CHAPTER TWO is faithful to King’s novel in that the film is also flawed next to the superior 2017 portion. But regardless of that, IT: CHAPTER TWO does more right than wrong, still managing to be a fun time and decent conclusion.
Let’s start with the good stuff. IT: CHAPTER TWO’s biggest asset is its cast. Not only is the younger cast from the first film back [and doing a great job as before], but the grown-up actors portraying them were probably as close to pitch perfect in terms of looks and personality wise. Out of anyone here, the standout is clearly Bill Hader as comic relief Richie. The moment he appears and starts bouncing off dialogue with the other main characters, you can honestly believe that he’s the same character that Finn Wolfhard perfected in the 2017 film. Hader has the best lines and recites them with some great comic timing that you can’t help but love the guy. And I was most impressed by the fact that he handled the dramatic moments really well, honestly making me feel bad for his character during certain situations. I know a lot of people just see Hader as that funny guy on Saturday Night Live years ago, but if you’re a fan of the HBO show Barry, you know Hader is the real deal. He’s a big reason to watch this film and I could see him at least getting a Golden Globe nomination early next year. He’s that good.
The rest of the cast varies in terms of performance. James Ransome as Eddie is really good, playing off younger Jack Dylan Grazer’s hypochondriac behavior and hilarious banter against Hader. He had a lot to play with and exceeded expectations. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain do as best as they can with the material given to them as Bill and Beverly respectively. Both get some memorable moments and definitely prove they are more than capable actors. It definitely erased some of that DARK PHOENIX stink, at least. The rest of the main cast [Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa and Andy Bean] are fine, but the script probably could have given them more to do.
As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgard is still great as the evil clown. I wish he was in the film more, but Skarsgard makes all of his scenes memorable and creepy. He has a really great scene involving a young girl under the bleachers that showcases how great Skarsgard is in the role. And special mention to Teach Grant as bully Henry Bowers. He plays crazy and vengeful pretty well, although he’s kind of given the short straw when it comes to screen time.
As for the cameos, it was great to see Stephen King and Peter Bogdanovich doing their thing.
And like the first film, IT: CHAPTER TWO uses nostalgia very well. I love seeing a poster for THE LOST BOYS in a clubhouse and that awesome marquee for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD at the local theater. Plus, we get some good music like Cameo’s “Word Up”, New Kids on the Block’s “Cover Girl” and a tiny blip of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” [even though the song didn't fit the scene and I thought someone's ringtone had played inside of the theater, odd song choice that made no real sense]. But the flashback scenes still felt like they belonged in the late-80s, which made me content.
As for the present day scenes, I think the best moments of IT: CHAPTER TWO are when the gang are together onscreen. One of the best scenes is when the gang are in the restaurant together during their long awaited reunion. As they try to remember the things they all blocked out once they left Derry, the friends are reminiscing about their childhood and present in such a way that it feels authentic. You honestly feel like these are the same characters from the first film, as they rag on each other and just reaffirm their bond with one another underneath the dread of Pennywise wanting his revenge. It also leads into this great scene involving some messed up fortune cookies that reminds the group why they left Derry to begin with.
And of course, the reunion in the final act leads to some great dramatic moments that increase the tension of the battle against It. They’re all fragmented and selfish for their own reasons at the start of the confrontation, but end up remembering why they are The Losers’ Club and battle their fears together. I wish more of the film had these scenes because they’re the strongest of this film and the closest to having the characters be as similar as those in the first installment. Great storytelling when The Losers are just that - a Club.
I also have to commend IT: CHAPTER TWO for taking LGBTQ themes and treating them in a serious matter. The horror genre, in particular, has always tried to sneak in hints and nods to different sexualities. Sometimes they’re used to create a mood in terms of narrative and visual presentation. Sometimes these themes are the obvious focus of the film to cater to a certain demographic. Other times, some filmmakers will try to create situations where LGBTQ characters are treated as objects or humor for other characters, not realizing it may be offending some viewers. IT: CHAPTER TWO starts just like the second half of the novel does - with a disturbing gay bashing of a local Derry couple that leads into one of them being a victim of Pennywise. This scene could have been handled so offensively in the wrong hands, or even years ago when PC Culture wasn’t a strong influence. But Adrian and Don are portrayed as a normal loving couple, wanting to have fun at a carnival even when three bullies are calling them derogatory names and trying to start a fight with them. Even through all this, they never shy away from expressing how much they love each other, making the scene not only realistic, but tragic in that hate like this still occurs in modern times. It was nice to see two people just share a realistic attraction and affection for one another, regardless of their gender and sexuality. Not many horror films [or films in general] portray that well or for the right reasons.
The gay bashing scene would feel gratuitous, except it leads to the reveal of a certain character of The Losers’ Club being gay, giving us some dramatic moments near the end of the film. But it’s never a main focus of the last half of the film, nor does the character ever feel like their sexuality is their reason for being in the film. This character is a fully dimensional player in the story with multiple layers that many people will relate to and sympathize with. It may not have been needed for this character, but it’s handled respectfully and with class. I wish more films would handle these sort of things with this much respect, instead of treating it as some taboo gimmick. It’s 2019 and it’s time to grow up. IT: CHAPTER TWO proves you can do it believably well.
As for some negatives, I don’t think IT: CHAPTER TWO was as effective as the first film in terms of scares. I felt like a lot of the scarier moments in the film were too similar to the first film, which honestly is probably the right way to go in terms of telling a story from beginning to end. But I wish the film had raised the ante a bit, as it would have given the adults more dangerous situations to deal with compared to when they were kids. I felt that the first film had a more haunted house creepy vibe, while this film relies more on jump scares to jolt the audience. I’m sure that still affects a lot of people, but it didn’t do much for me.
I also felt the lack of Pennywise the Clown here as well. In one way, it was probably better to disguise Pennywise in other various forms to trick the audiences into a sense of calm before scaring them. Since IT has become a pop culture phenomenon, the Pennywise character isn’t as scary as he once was due to social media existing, which it didn’t back in 1990. However, Pennywise is the face of the IT brand, so not seeing Bill Skarsgard do his thing as much as he did in the first part is something I kind of missed this time around. Damned if you and damned if you don’t.
I also thought separating the characters for a long period of time was a big mistake in terms of the narrative. I get that the characters had to split in order to remember things and gather things for their confrontation against It. But most of the solo adventures dragged the film down for me and felt like they existed just to showcase the flashbacks with the more interesting younger characters. I did enjoy the Beverly, Richie and Eddie moments. Bill’s was good as well, even though it revealed a secret I wasn’t that much in favor for because it made him look kind of bad. The others didn’t really stand out in any way. Like I said, I felt the film was stronger when the characters stuck together because their adult counterparts just weren’t as interesting as their younger ones.
That’s mainly because there is a lack of depth in the adult characters. The most we really know about them are their occupations and their fears. I think Richie got the most depth out of anyone in the film because secrets were revealed that explained his behavior in both portions of IT. But the love triangle between Bill, Beverly and Ben doesn’t connect because the film doesn’t really focus on it until the end, leading to a conclusion that feels more forced than organic. And characters left out of the film, like Bill’s wife and Beverly’s abusive husband, would have added some much needed color to their adult characters. I even felt Mike’s borderline crazy behavior was too subtle compared to the novel and original mini-series, making his decisions feel more deliberate and mean-spirited rather than desperate and ignorant. Even bully Henry Bowers felt like something that had to be added in the film because some audiences are familiar with his big role in both the novel and mini-series. The character has an interesting arc as a mini-boss, but it feels sort of rushed and not all that necessary here.
As for the CGI, I thought it was more good than bad. The monstrous creatures looks pretty good. The It spider deal still looks silly, but at least it was an improvement over what the mini-series did. And that homage to a certain John Carpenter film, with quote and all, was pretty awesome. But those flashback de-aging scenes - man, some of those looked pretty bad. It was almost distracting at times, especially when it came to Finn Wolfhard’s facial features. I get the young actors got growth spurts since 2017’s IT, but it makes me wonder why they didn’t just shoot extra footage of the child actors if they knew they were doing a second chapter. Probably would have saved them a lot of grief getting most of the flashbacks out of the way, only using the de-aging stuff if they had to reshoot something. But other than that, the effects were fine and were on par with the first film.
THE FINAL HOWL
While I think 2017’s IT is the better portion of the complete story, IT: CHAPTER TWO is still a good conclusion that fans of the first film will probably enjoy. The older cast is solid [especially Bill Hader and James Ransone], even though some of them aren’t given a whole lot to do nor have much depth compared to their younger counterparts [who are still just as great as they were in the first chapter]. The pacing is pretty damn good for a three-hour film, never feeling like it wears out its welcome, regardless of some parts dragging a bit in the middle portion of the film. Most of the CGI is fine, but the de-aging process is more distracting than impressive when it comes to certain actors. And while Bill Skarsgard is still as great as ever as Pennywise the Clown, I wish he was in the film more since he had the creepiest moments in the film. IT: CHAPTER TWO isn’t perfect and has flaws I can’t overlook when it comes to the narrative at times. But it’s still charming, silly, and has great dramatic moments that make you sympathize with some of the players involved. More importantly, the film is a weird, fun time and a worthy adaptation that improves on the second part of the 1990 mini-series in every way.