My dear friend and fellow Funkhouser writer Adrian Bryant has always mused that there are two sides to Stephen King. There’s Spooky King, the one everyone knows. He writes things like the criminally underrated ‘Salems Lot, Pet Semetary, and The Stand. Then there’s the other, arguably better, side of the writer. Sentimental King. 11/22/63, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon are a few key examples of some of his stories. IT sits in a vaunted space somewhere between the two sides of the iconic author. Simultaneously a brutal, cosmic horror and coming of age hijinks, the story is one of about 3 or 4 of King’s magnum opuses. Telling the saga of the Losers’ Club, a group of scrappy kids and later adults who come together to battle a shapeshifting clown named Pennywise. 2017 saw roughly half of the book released in the first part of a duology to large critical and commercial success. Riding on the waves of Stranger Things, a series the book heavily inspired, IT took the portion of the story focusing on the younger version of the Losers’ Club and transported it from the 50’s to the 80’s. Offering a strong cast and a few clever scares, the film was a solid, if not condensed adaption of the 1,138 page novel. With expectations high, IT Chapter 2 has ridden the hype train into theaters. The sequel has the unenviable task of telling half of the story dominated by the adult versions of the Losers Club, widely regarded as the weaker half of the story by fans of the book and mini-series adaption. Ultimately, Chapter 2 is something of a mixed bag. The return to Derry, Maine utterly fails as an adaption of Spooky King, but thrives in its attempts to capture his sentimental side.
In the opening minutes of the film, you’ll find out that everyone who left Derry is, at least outwardly, in a very good place. Yet again it appears that Mike got the short end of the stick, not only within the confines of the story, but in his characterization as well. As the one member of the group to have stayed in Derry, he warded off the fame and fortune to have befallen his friends, Mike exists largely as a human exposition dump. When Pennywise reemerges, Mike is the one to make the call to bring the Losers back home, assigning each of them side quests that make up most of the films bloated runtime. James McAvoy’s Bill is the de-facto leader of the group, now a world famous author with a penchant for lackluster endings. Still wracked with guilt over the death of his little brother some 27 years earlier, when the call comes to return to Derry to face down Pennywise one last time, Bill is there to lead the charge. Richie’s a comedian. Stan is a happily married accountant. Eddie runs a limo service and has essentially married his mother. Ben is now a hyper-successful architect and 100% beefcake. Apart from the 6 pack, he’s largely the same soft spoken and good natured kid, still carrying a torch for Beverly Marsh decades on. Speaking of Beverly (played by Jessica Chastain, fulfilling a popular fan casting), her abusive relationship with her father been replaced by one with a husband who’s just as vile. As expected, she’s also still in a bit of a love triangle with the other two people in the Losers club with B names. She’s also a fashion designer now. Despite how much wealth or success they’ve accomplished, it becomes very clear that the adults making their way home are fundamentally the same people they were when they left 30ish years before; all of them in stasis, having never truly conquered the obstacles they faced as children. Making them ripe for the picking by a certain inter-dimensional shapeshifter.
2017’s IT struck gold with in its casting. Finding a child actor with actual skill is a something of an anomaly, but finding 7 of them is miraculous. And all the better too. Because the pre-teen versions of Bill, Ben, Bev, Richie, Stan, Eddie, and Mike are a fantastic ensemble. It’s rather unfortunate that the same can’t be said about their adult counterparts. Barring Bill Hader’s Ritchie and James Ransone’s Eddie, the grown up Losers are serviceable at best. That’s not to say that any of them are bad performances by any means, it’s just that the Trashmouth and the hypochondriac will be the only ones to stick with you when you walk out of the theater. Ransone imbues Eddie with an effective blend of nervousness and befuddlement that’s endearing in all the right ways. He’s also got some of the funniest lines in the movie, sharing some fantastic chemistry the venerated Hader. With regards to the SNL vet’s performance in the film, I was absolutely blown away. I’ve seen the first season of HBO’s Barry (if you’re not watching, then get on that shit), so I know Hader is more than capable of pulling off something dramatic. With Ritchie, Hader goes absolutely above and beyond the comic relief role I assumed he would be playing here. “Trashmouth” Tozier is far more than just being the funny member of the group this time around, he’s vulnerable and empathetic, displaying a wider array of emotions than anyone else in the cast. He’ll laugh and break your heart in equal measure.
Bill Skarsgård does the best with the very little he’s given, still playing Pennywise with that monstrous physicality that got him so much praise the first time around in 2017. The problem is that the forms Pennywise takes on and the horror set pieces he’s given are, for the most part, incredibly underwhelming. Pennywise himself isn’t given nearly as much screen time here, with various CGI monsters taking his place for most of the film. Among them a naked old lady, a giant plastic lumberjack, and even a nice little callback to The Thing at one point. Nothing in the film is that scary. Everything is heavily telegraphed, you’re given ample time to prepare when something is about to jump out at you. And even then, director Andy Muschietti makes some truly odd choices for certain scares in the film. One that I’ve seen pop up in several other reviews is the random use of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” during a fairly intense sequence. It was almost certainly being played for laughs, but it wasn’t funny, and was totally out of place in the film. In one of the most bizarre side plots in the film, Pennywise isn’t the only returning villain, as the mullet sporting bully Henry Bowers makes his return as well. Fans of the novel and miniseries know that the psychopathic Henry’s escape from a mental institute and eventual confrontation with the grown up Losers’ Club is fairly important to the plot. But here, not only does it have zero impact on the outcome of the story, it’s cheesy as hell. Henry’s presence is distracting and meaningless. Doing nothing but adding length to a story that was far too long in the first place.
What Chapter 2 lacks in scares it makes up for in heart. Flashbacks to 1988 are embedded throughout the film, giving the original cast plenty of time to shine. You get the feeling that the filmmakers knew the adult cast just wasn’t as compelling, as the younger versions of the characters are fairly heavily featured throughout the film. The best scenes in the film are those that see the Losers bonding. The first time the group meets back up in Derry is a highlight, seeing these long lost friends eat, drink and laugh together left me feeling warm. A brief moment of levity to be savored before all hell breaks loose later on. Young or old, the friendship between the Losers feels real. Whether it’s a bunch of 40 year olds reminiscing about their childhoods, or those very kids they’re thinking about shit talking each other while hanging out in a fort they built out in the woods, the film does a fantastic job portraying a group of people that truly care for one another. And I’d be a liar if I said that Ben’s all-encompassing and unbreakable love for Bev didn’t make my heart grow a size or two. This is Sentimental King at its finest.
There’s far more bad than good in IT: Chapter 2. Story threads from the novel and first film are abruptly introduced and dropped at a moment’s notice (I’m looking at you, Beverly having an abusive husband). While others are completely unnecessary (Ahem, Henry). There are only two standout performances in a fairly large and well known cast. It’s entirely too long, even with lightning fast pacing it still feels as if you’ve been sitting in a theater for about two days before the credits role. It’s not even scary. But when CGI abominations aren’t parading across the screen and Juice Newton isn’t being inappropriately jammed out, when old friends are reminiscing and falling back in love, it’s beautiful. So if you’re going in to watch a horror movie, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re coming out to spend a little more time with that patchwork family that is the Losers’ Club, odds are you’ll walk out smiling.