In retrospect, it seems even wiser now that the first It movie only focused on the younger versions of the Losers. And it was only after watching It Chapter Two that the realization hit of what made the first movie work so well. And this all comes with a greater appreciation for trying to adapt It at all, which now, in retrospect, seems like an almost impossible task.
The biggest problem with IT the character — also popularly referred to as one of its forms, Pennywise — is that he or she (this seems to be up for debate in the book) has no real rules. Oh, sure, some rules are introduced – IT likes to eat people when they are scared because they taste better! – but then those rules always seem to get contradicted, because then it turns out IT will also eat a person if they are not scared, they just don’t taste as good. So yes, there are no real rules to IT’s powers. So we watch IT trying to get children to come to him/her inside a sewer, then learn there’s no real reason for any of that since IT can pretty much go anywhere he/she wants at any time with no repercussions. During the first It, there was something surreal about the vagueness of IT’s powers and the effect it had on the minds of children. But, now, in It Chapter Two, as we hang out with the adult Losers, that vagueness eventually becomes frustrating. Because over the course of this sequel’s almost three hour (!!!) running time, it feels like IT could have killed everyone in the cast eight or nine times over, but just doesn’t.
It Chapter Two toggles back and forth between the adult version of the Losers and their past selves, but the overwhelming focus is on the adult cast – and it’s a suburb cast. And over the course of the film’s first 90 minutes, we watch them struggle with their pasts in Derry, Maine – even though they don’t quite remember what happened. Well, except for Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who stayed behind in Derry to just wait for the day IT (Bill Skarsgård, who is great) returns. In the book, Mike has lived a hard life. And, yes, waiting around every day for the return of a killer clown alien would probably drive a lot of people to substance abuse. But here in the film, that aspect isn’t shown. Instead, Mike just kind of comes off as a little weird. In the movie, he’s basically that one friend we all had (well, at least I had) who was really into Dungeons & Dragons and would talk about it all the time, even though no one else had any idea what he was talking about.
Mike somehow convinces most of the losers (played by Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Jay Ryan, and James Ransone) to return to Derry for a reunion – and then they each slowly start to remember, “Oh, right, the killer alien clown. Yeah, he’s bad news.” The reason this movie is so long is because the film takes us through every single one of the Losers’ aspirations, fears, and encounters with IT. But, again, IT gets a one-on-one encounter with each and every one of them (I do appreciate IT’s time management skills) and simply chooses not to kill them because, well, I have no idea. And don’t say it’s because they aren’t scared, because in these encounters they all seemed pretty damn scared.
The reality is — and this is why I give director Andy Muschietti some credit here — is that IT, on its own, is kind of an impossible creature. He’s just a monster with really no weaknesses that can do whatever it (IT) wants. If IT just kills the Losers right off the bat, well, we don’t have a movie. (And I’m sure he’d receive a strongly worded letter from Stephen King.) But when the Losers mount their inevitable fight back, it’s hard not to think, “Well, IT could have killed you five times over if he had simply wanted to. So congrats, I guess?” But these are the cards that were dealt. This is what IT is. You kind of either go along with IT or you don’t. And, frankly, it was easier to go along with before than now.
The new cast is outstanding — as you’ve probably already read, Bill Hader really delivers as Richie and James Ransone is fantastic as Eddie — but the tone is also different than the first film. Which, yes, makes sense since the first chapter was playing with the same kind of nostalgia that makes Stranger Things so popular – and there’s this beaming innocence to that movie. Now, our characters are broken and the film itself is much darker. And not in that fake cool, “oh, yeah, a dark superhero movie,” way – but more that there’s a lot of disturbing imagery that’s kind of shocking, compared to the first film. (It’s so different I had to double-check after that the same team made this film.)
(And with an already long movie, there’s a whole weird subplot involving the return of mean kid Henry Bowers that, yes, I know is in the book, but just feels unnecessary and goes pretty much nowhere. Every time we spend time with Henry Bowers the movie comes to a screeching halt.)