Directed by: Andres Muschietti || Produced by: Barbara Muschietti, Dan Lin, Roy Lee
Screenplay by: Gary Dauberman || Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgard
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch || Cinematography: Checco Varese || Edited by: Jason Ballantine || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 169 minutes
Red Letter Media’s take on the latest two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s It (1986) is a decent summation of the controversy, legacy, and cultural image of the famous author’s works adapted for the screen. I reckon most people’s exposure to the library of King is, in fact, his volumes’ translation to film, which I find interesting given the man’s foremost popularity as a horror-writer despite the most successful film-adaptations (e.g. The Shawshank Redemption , The Green Mile ) being based on his dramatic works. That paradigm may have shifted with Andres Muschietti’s It (2017), a partial adaptation and re-imagining of the novel of the same name, which grossed over $700 million on its nostalgia appeal, creative blend of coming-of-age drama, horror, and dark fantasy tropes, and a wonderful child cast. The 2017 film was nothing if not ambitious, leveraging a considerable $30 million-budget for an adult-oriented genre-picture, built atop a beloved yet messy source material. As Jay Bauman and Mike Stoklasa pointed out regarding the original ~1100-page novel, “The co-author of the book is cocaine.”
Elements of that long-winded, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink writing style are present in the 2017 picture, which adapts portions of the original novel from its principal characters’ childhood point-of-view. Still, Muschietti and company’s first attempt to adapt the unwieldy novel was admirable for producing any sort of coherent narrative, whatsoever, and its competent storytelling structure was bolstered by its aforementioned bravado child cast and impressive special FX. It (2017) modernized King’s monster-mash horror story with heart and a sense of humor despite its overall morbid tone, and I suspect that combination of childhood innocence with over-the-top dark fantasy was the primary source of its broad appeal.
It 2 (2019), also known as It: Chapter 2, is a longer, messier, more unkempt followup to the 2017-adaptation that plays more like a remix of Muschietti’s original film rather than a conventional sequel. Most of the complaints I’ve read online and heard from peers concern the film’s immense length (169 minutes), overindulgent flashbacks to sequences with the 2017-child cast, and an overarching focus on FX-driven set-pieces over its characters’ emotional development. It’s difficult to argue against those criticisms since the film is indeed long-winded, its flashback sequences limit the screentime of its principle adult cast (who are also terrific), and its third act is overstuffed with endless surrealist horror sequences that feel more “epic” than frightening.
I eagerly recommended the 2017 picture as a result of its ambition but also its rigid structure, the latter of which is not present in It: Chapter 2 (henceforth, IC2). IC2 plays like an overindulgent, misguided director’s cut after its 70-minute mark, failing to build upon its promising first act, which takes time to establish the setting, emotional status, and personality of its adult characters and their reconciliation. The film is frustrating due to its competent narrative foundation being overwhelmed by a second and third act more interested in showing off extraneous, often disconnected spooky set-pieces that grow less and less scary because of repetition. For every scare that works, like the prologue with the homophobic gang, or the sequence where Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) lures a young girl under some bleachers at a sporting event, there are 2-3 scares that don’t and slow the pace of the film.
The finale in particular is a series of repetitive jump-scares and on-the-nose digital FX that overstay their welcome. This is a shame, because the finale in particular and the film in general flaunt a variety of impressive visuals, effective blocking, memorable surrealist imagery, and an overall seductive foreboding tone; yet, it is all weighed down (watered down?) by so much extraneous narrative fat.
Complicating things further is the aforementioned inclusion of numerous flashback sequences featuring the child-cast of the 2017 movie, which begs the question: Should this installment have focused exclusively on the adult versions of It’s cast, thus better partitioning screentime for their development, or should this entire two-part theatrical release have been reorganized as an 8-10 part mini-series for Netflix or Amazon? Judging this 2019 movie separate from its 2017 predecessor, IC2 feels like a bloated standalone feature about adults overcoming childhood drama, flaunting a long running-time for not that much narrative payoff. If you compare IC2 to It (2017) as the second installment of a two-part story, IC2 feels repetitive at best and downright unnecessary at worst. I, like most audiences, enjoyed the child-cast of It (2017) and liked seeing them juxtaposed with their adult versions in this film, but when analyzing this project as a whole, I’d argue these ubiquitous flashback sequences undercut IC2‘s contemporary storyline. As Chris Stuckmann observed in his review of the film, “The perspective that your film is told from is extremely important,” yet this second chapter seems to misunderstand that to its downfall.
While I enjoyed seeing It: Chapter 2 in theatres given the scope of its special FX and the emotional resonance of the story’s conclusion when held in context with its strong opening, I struggle to recommend this film in its entirety because it contains at least 80 minutes of pure filler. There’s solid filmmaking at the core of this picture, but at some point the repetitive scares, overzealous digital FX, and pointless flashback sequences choke the heartfelt characters and meaningful themes of this story. I would call this film a letdown in every sense of the word, not only in comparison to the far stronger 2017-rendition of this premise, but also with respect to how well this film set the stage for its own success. Not long after James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and company eat their Chinese dinner, this movie takes a fucking nosedive.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Though not without heart and memorable characters, It: Chapter Two is a near three-hour mess that swarms its memorable setting and creepy antagonist with too many FX, too many unnecessary flashbacks, and a never-ending Clown-Spider battle (I’m not kidding… ) that drain its tension and kill its narrative momentum.
— However… the movie’s opening 75 minutes or so reintroduce our characters as adults in fascinating ways, making great use of a wonderful cast. Andres Muscietti frames creative visuals throughout, and multiple sequences are truly haunting. The film also ends on a satisfying note.
—> As much as I enjoyed significant parts of “it,” this second chapter is NOT RECOMMENDED, though perhaps a fan-edit can salvage the core of this film a la The Hobbit (2012-2014).
? Did they not kill Pennywise using the exact method they used to corner him in the first movie? Was the only difference they stood up to him at his origin-point?