IT Chapter Two is a film with great vision, while also being one that lacks focus. This lack of an anchor, or heart-if you will-is the source of much frustration as it's clear director Andy Muschietti has great ambition for what he not only wants his adaptation to be, but represent; this is to be the modern day equivalent of The Shining, a Marvel-esque sized accomplishment in the horror genre, but while the mission is clear and the intent appreciated it seems Muschietti's bloated sequel to his 2017 introduction to the Losers Club bit off more than it could chew. Rather than purely being the twenty-seven year-later sequel it was assumed to be, IT Chapter Two largely operates in a fashion where the first, more endearing chapter, didn't have to exist. It's nice that it does and of the two is the better film, but this is because that movie-while still sprawling in its scope-didn't have to deal in two separate timelines, didn't have to fully dissect the characters, but more just plant the seeds for them and it didn't have to somehow shoehorn in a story about an ancient ritual that would defeat this cosmic entity that we come to know is Pennywise the dancing clown. In other words, Muschietti's predecessor had the ability to focus on its characters in both its heroes and its antagonist while developing the undesirable, but sometimes symbiotic relationship between the two. In Chapter Two, Muschietti and his editor, Jason Ballantine, never find the necessary groove to make everything the film is trying to accomplish flow with the comprehension necessary to lend the film that needed focus, that necessary anchor that gives the viewer something specific to latch onto so that it connects to-if not everything the film is trying to do-at least one thing that will make it feel more personal and therefore more haunting. IT Chapter Two is such a film of fits and starts that it's almost impossible to find any one thing to latch onto at all, but lucky for us Chapter Two does in fact boast a game cast of adult Losers that make the jumbled narrative bearable while Muschietti's visual prowess remains on impressive display throughout. Furthermore, Bill Skarsgård's performance as Pennywise is still gold, but even in this regard the filmmakers don't take as much advantage of the performance as they should-layering in CGI and not allowing Skarsgård's disturbing portrayal to truly breathe. Like a buffet plate that's loaded with everything that looked good, IT Chapter Two ends up a pile of parts with a single bite out of each-nothing fully digested leaving the consumer full, but not satisfied.

From left: Bill Hader is Richie Tozier, Jessica Chastain is Beverly Marsh, James McAvoy is Bill Denbrough, James Ransone is Eddie Kaspbrak, Isaiah Mustafa is Mike Hanlon and Jay Ryan is Ben Hanscom in IT Chapter Two.
Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2019 Warner Bros.
From the outset, we are optimistic though, as (per my friend who read the novel) Muschietti opens his film with the same scene that opens the book: a gay couple in present day Derry are the victims of a hate crime just outside the gates of the town fair. We are introduced to Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) and Don Hagarty (Taylor Frey) as they enjoy their night at the Derry carnival, Adrian even being so kind as to give the stuffed reindeer he wins to the young girl sitting next to him. The couple is discussing plans to leave Derry when a badly dressed group of bullies begins hurling homophobic slurs and such at them before beginning to physically beat Adrian and Don relentlessly. It is in this scene that both King and Muschietti demonstrate what is maybe the scariest thing about the society IT Chapter Two is mirroring in that King wrote this scene in 1986 as it was based on the 1984 murder of Charlie Howard, a gay man, who was killed by a group of teens in Bangor, Maine. Howard was thrown off a bridge into a canal, where he drowned. Adrian doesn’t drown but, instead, meets a grim fate when he’s found by Pennywise. The scary part is how little Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (Annabelle Comes Home) had to change in order for a 2019 audience to buy that this would happen today-in fact, I'm not sure they had to change anything at all. This is where the first film worked so well in melding its scares and its sensibilities as it was able to both be frightening in the more traditional sense of Pennywise being this menacing character due to the fact he's a mysterious figure in creepy clown make-up, but also by cutting through that outer layer to what truly made his presence more disturbing in that he has to feed off fear and specifically-the fear of children. Pennywise comes to embody how evil people can be and how dark humans can get especially in small town America where the facade is that everything is "hunky dory" as long as everyone conforms to the standards of those in power. It's easy to see that throughout both films, Muschietti and Dauberman strove to build this symbolism in a way that would seemingly honor the mythology of the source material while being conducive to the film responding to the complex emotional journeys of its human characters and while this opening sequence is genuinely horrific and sets the table for a key characters development or lack thereof later on in the film, the nuance of it-like much else in Chapter Two-is unfortunately lost in the shuffle.

As can likely be gleaned, the main issue with Muschietti's film is that it is a collection of rather impressive set pieces ultimately in search of a story. That story, from a rather broad perspective, is one that is supposed to reunite the seven members of the "Losers Club" as adults twenty-seven years down the road in order to finally defeat the ancient cosmic evil that is largely personified through Pennywise. There's the defaulted-to-leader in Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) who became a writer that can't seem to nail a third act, there's Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) the young girl who was physically and mentally abused by her father and has seemingly married a version of that father figure for, despite their seeming success as fashion designers, the couple still have plenty of issues with control and trust. Next is Richie Tozier (the scene-stealing Bill Hader) who has become a successful stand-up comic despite also seeming to have become an alcoholic who relies on the drink for the numbness it provides to the rest of the world. James Ransone is Eddie Kaspbrak-the germaphobe with mommy issues-who has also managed to marry a woman much like his doting mother and who hasn't fully recovered from the Munchausen syndrome she inflicted upon him as he's become a successful risk analyst at a large insurance company, but still uses that inhaler. Maybe the most successful of the group or at least the one who experienced the most drastic change is that of Ben Hanscom (New Zealand native Jay Ryan) as he's shed all of his baby fat in exchange for a six pack while being the CEO of an architecture firm where he can work out of his ultra-modern home in sweatpants and pine for Beverly in secluded comfort. Andy Bean's Stanley Uris is, of course, the character with the least amount of screentime for reasons that will not be spoiled here, but it is Isaiah Mustafa's Mike Hanlon that remained in Derry. The sole "loser" who recalls all of what occurred that fateful summer of 1989, Mike is the one who reunites the Losers Club once again. Hanlon has become a hermit of sorts as he lives above the library and tracks every potential lead so as to recognize when and where Pennywise might have struck; ready to reunite his old gang and send them on a chase across their past in order to perform an ancient ritual the Native Americans who have now settled just outside of Derry say their ancestors had to do in order to rid themselves of this entity. Easier said than done though, as it is from this set-up that Muschietti and Dauberman attempt an Infinity saga-style structure that separates our newly reunited Losers Club in order for them to find the lost pieces of themselves they need in order to defeat Pennywise once and for all.     

Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is back to haunt the Losers Club twenty-seven years later in IT Chapter Two.
Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2019 Warner Bros.
At its sprawling length, it is something of a wandering narrative when-at nearly three hours-it should feel as if every minute is necessary and earned. That isn't to say it doesn't balance the character drama with the scares along with everything else Muschietti is trying to manage well, but oddly enough the scares feel rather sparse whereas the comedy of the piece is more forward and obvious. This isn't a problem given so much of the film is set around the returning camaraderie and new dynamics of the grown-up Losers, but that there are never any real stakes for these characters outside of finding their "tokens" and re-convincing themselves that what Pennywise shows them "isn't real" thus making for a three hour horror movie without any real tension...that's an issue. There is a genuine thrill that comes from seeing characters viewers grew so fond of in Chapter 1 being played by older actors who inhabit those characters so well, but unfortunately this is where much of the "thrill" of Chapter 2 comes from. The casting of the older Losers is a real highlight of the film though, especially in the early scenes when they actually get to all be together and interact with one another for the first time in decades. We see each of these characters outside of the Derry bubble as these successful adults who have become exceptional or well-regarded in their chosen professional fields, but it is the way each of them revert back to how they interacted as children once they're all back together despite said successes that is both humbling as well as a reminder of the traumas and tragedies they faced during that stage of life.

The story naturally focuses on some characters more than others, but in each of the adult Losers we seem to get a well-gauged performance where the scars left by that summer of 1989 are apparent in the cracks we see forming in their adult facades. There is this theme of shared trauma that pulses through each of the main characters and this seeming goal of examining how it manifests in adulthood after having been blocked or repressed in childhood, but more than exploring the repercussions of these scars outside of a few scenes in the beginning of the movie it more often than not defaults to repeated scary movie gags that don't further the narrative and worse, come to feel repetitive. There is also this whole subplot with Pennywise using the adult Henry Bowers (a great Teach Grant) to do his bidding for him, but there is never any sufficient reasoning as to why this is necessary when Pennywise is a shapeshifter who re-visits each of the Losers anyway. In essence, this is the problem with the movie in a nutshell; there are a lot of good things to find within pockets of everything else going on here, but as a whole the final product is all over the place with no inherent rhythm-which is coincidentally true of Benjamin Wallfisch's score as well. And while the final climactic showdown does wrap up some of the themes around insecurities and family trauma fairly well and in a rather impactful way it again feels largely repetitive of the climax of the first film. Seeing the Losers do this as adults-having grown through the terror Pennywise hung over their lives-makes the sequence more triumphant in a way, but the journey to get there has been so periphery that, while feeling earned, this conclusion of the Losers' journey doesn't carry near as much heart as it needs to or should.

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