Adaptations of Stephen King’s works have always been a tricky proposition. King is unquestionably a master of the written word, effectively crafting many a tale short and long with a horrific or sci-fi bend to them (many times, both). Works in the written medium, however, don’t always translate effectively to the screens of televisions and movie theaters, and there is a litany of King’s works that have been translated with wildly varying degrees of success. Whatever your opinions are of most of these adaptations, the general consensus is that 2017’s feature film ‘IT’ was not only one of the best King translations to the screen, but also one of the best horror films to be released in recent memory. The problem: the movie told only half the story, and as inevitable as some movie’s sequels feel, the release of ‘IT: Chapter 2’ was downright necessary.
So, here we are: the day I’m writing this is actually two years to the day from my first advance-screening of the first film, and the memory of that experience still feels fresh in my mind. In my 2017 review of ‘IT,’ my biggest knock against the film is that the presentation was very heavy on the scare factor, but somewhat lacking in the character development arena. ‘IT: Chapter Two’ suffers from the same malady, unfortunately, with the added issue of now not only under-developing the characters as children, but also doing a disservice to their grown-up counterparts as well. Add in the fact that this sequel oddly tries to shoe-horn in an odd amount of comedic moments, and you’ve got a film that is overall effective in its presentation as a “scary movie,” but feels like a missed opportunity to build on the excellent quality of the first film and really take things to the “next level.”
‘IT: Chapter 2’ is meant to be the story of the characters as adults and their return to the small town of Derry to once again fight the other-worldly terror that manifests itself as Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). The movie, however, spends a surprising amount of time still focused on the younger versions of the characters, which at times feels like a disservice to the stellar “adult cast,” even though the kids are wonderful actors as well.
Certainly, the movie clearly shows how the horrors of the past are affecting the characters in the present, who have almost all moved out of town in order to get on with their lives. Only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) remained in Derry, becoming a librarian and keeping the proverbial watch on Pennywise. Bill (James McAvoy) remains haunted (in more than one way) by the death of his brother, Georgie, in the first film; he is now a successful writer but, in a not-so-sly nod to King himself, has trouble crafting effective endings to his stories. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) has traded an abusive father for an abusive marriage – a fact that is a driving point for the character herself but is largely ignored as the film progresses. Ben (Jay Ryan) is no longer the “chubby kid,” as he has gotten fit and successful in his career as an architect, but he still struggles psychologically with the specter bullying he endured in his youth. Richie (Bill Hader) has found a career as a comedian, but his struggles with alcohol abuse show a deeper pain that is always present. Eddie (James Ransone) is your typical high-stress, high-strung adult who can’t ever seem to appreciate anything in his life for what it is.
They all begrudgingly end up back in their hometown when Mike reaches out to them; Pennywise has awoken and terrors are beginning anew, and only the Loser’s Club has what it takes to try and stop him. You don’t need me to tell you that the supernatural being spends most of the film trying to make the character’s lives a literal living Hell, and that there are scares aplenty. The horror is effective; the jokes are funny, although some viewers are likely to feel that it’s too much for a movie like this – the opinion on this will be your own.
The cast is great, as one would expect from this level of talent all gathered together. Director Andy Muschietti and the creative team clearly had a vision in place for these two films from the get-go, and on the whole, they have succeeded in creating an effective scare experience. I know I said earlier that the film feels like a missed opportunity to take things to the “next level,” but it’s hard to quantify what that entails – all in all, I’ve been pleased with my movie-watching experience with both the original and this sequel, but throughout both films, I’ve just had a nagging feeling that I’ve wanted something more out of the experience. Whether that’s something that others will also feel or is simply just my high expectations being met to only varying degrees, it’s hard to say for sure.
Listen, folks: the original novel version of ‘IT’ clocks in at over 1,100 pages; that’s a tall order for any sort of moving-picture adaptation. Muschietti gives the viewer over five hours of screen time to effectively tell the tale and, overall, the two films are above average in many ways. This is likely the best adaptation of ‘IT’ that viewers will ever see, and while expectations were always high, on the whole, the cast and crew gave us a two-part cinematic experience that audiences should be able to enjoy.