Near the end of It: Chapter Two, Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) and Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) are trapped underneath their old town of Derry, having returned there on the request of Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) to reform the Loser’s Club 27 years later, when the evil of the entity calling itself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has returned. The two are separated, and thanks to Pennywise/the Deadlights’ power, Ben finds himself stuck inside the clubhouse he built for the Losers, starting to drown in rising dirt and sand, while Beverly is confined within a school bathroom stall, starting to drown in a rising sea of blood. The scene is indicative of some of the film’s narrative lapses—Pennywise appears and taunts Ben about his weight, which doesn’t quite tie in with the location Ben is being consumed by, while Beverly is psychologically tortured during her drowning by a parade of people on the other side of the stall door who, with one exception, have barely been seen or established before. Yet director Andy Muschietti keeps the pace and the tension so incredibly high that the overall effect is a harrowing one, and ultimately writer Gary Dauberman uses this setpiece to get at the core themes of the second and final installment of the Losers’ story. After Ben calls to Beverly, making a connection between the bonded, tortured, lonely people who make up the Loser’s Club, Beverly manages to kick down the stall door facing her, a door which opens directly over Ben’s quickly forming grave, allowing her to save him. Thanks to the laws of It that Mike has discovered, chiefly the notion that any matter must conform to the attributes of the shape it’s in, the spectral fluid pours out of Beverly’s stall, washing away—the blood goes.
It: Chapter Two is an anomaly in a variety of ways. It’s a film that is the second half (or so) of an adaptation of Stephen King’s single tome of a book, yet it wasn’t written, shot, or even cast during the making of Chapter One. It retains the same director, and several of the principal actors as the teen characters, but only one of the several writers that worked on the first film. That all means that Chapter Two is simultaneously a direct continuation and a sequel, and as such, it falls into a few traps that many highly anticipated sequels do. For one, it attempts to do too much, with the absolutely stuffed runtime of two hours and forty-nine minutes moving along at a rapid clip, hoping to at least touch upon all the disparate plot threads set up by the first part as well as carry through every major character’s story arc. For another, the lag time between making the films means that the teen cast of the first has begun to rapidly age, and in a bid to attempt to revise that natural process, the filmmakers have employed that trendy Hollywood tech of “de-aging,” which ends up being more of a distraction than a natural fit. The film’s biggest flaw, again like many sequels, is that it’s not its predecessor, failing to recapture that blend of childhood innocence violated by unrelenting terror, faced by a tight knit ensemble of characters.
However, like most (underrated) sequels, that disappointment comes as a result of the film doing its own unique thing and largely succeeding. It’s clear from the first 20 minutes or so that the movie isn’t even attempting to aim at the same exact tone of the first, instead establishing a feel of its own as we’re introduced (it feels wrong to say re-introduced, given how different these characters are grown up) to the adult Losers: Beverly, married to a fashion designer who is a mirror of her abusive father; Ben, a now hunky and wealthy head of a real estate firm; Bill (James McAvoy), a writer struggling with the endings to his novels and Hollywood screenplays; Stanley (Andy Bean), a well-to-do married man with a fragile emotional state; Eddie (James Ransone), a high strung risk assessment agent; Richie (Bill Hader), a neurotic stand-up comedian; and Mike, the one who never left Derry, who inherently knew there was unfinished business in his hometown, a cancer that had to be studied, diagnosed, and eradicated. One of the major plot points of Chapter Two is how all of the Losers save Mike have largely forgotten about their childhood experiences in Derry, and it’s through this supernatural device that the film’s thesis on growing up (not just coming of age) and changing is seen. Pennywise is both their traumatic past that they must face as well as the tendrils of their hometown and upbringing that they can’t completely purge from themselves. In that way, the film is as much a metaphor for the damage that abuse of children—no matter the form it takes—causes, and how it shapes a person’s life.
With material like that, Chapter Two could have gone into depths of sorrow and pain a la Twin Peaks: Fire Wall With Me, but that’s not Stephen King’s bag, and neither is it the film’s, as it instead strikes a tone that’s frequently brutal but never bleak. For a movie that opens with a violent hate crime, Chapter Two goes on to be not only a lot of fun but frequently quite intentionally funny. It’s jarring at first (and, in the one instance of a bizarre source music cue during a scare scene, it’s jarring later, too), but the wacky tone effectively establishes a world where the racism against Mike and the sexual violence against Bev and the bigotry against Richie can all co-exist with the wild metaphysical mumbo jumbo of the Ritual of Chud. The ensemble of actors here are just as delightful as in the first film, but in a different way—while those teens were at their best as a unit (and are still seen in flashbacks here, still great), these adult Losers never quite gel as a group, but individually are a blast to watch. The stars McAvoy, Chastain and Hader get the most material here, and they really do knock it out of the park. What’s especially great is seeing how their dynamic works with Skarsgard’s monster, who modulates the “creepy older man” vibe from the first film and almost becomes a father figure to these grown ups, making for a clever and eerie subtext. The element of the film that’s easily 100% on par with the first are the setpieces, which Muschietti and his team still has a helluva flair for. Pennywise’s powers allow for the mutability of reality, meaning that anything could be an attack from him at anytime, and the feeling of the film’s supernatural element still carries a strong Nightmare On Elm Street vibe. The creature design is remarkable, with the film sporting some truly disturbing and disgusting beasts, including one that’s a very knowing homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Overall, the horror sequences are a spooky funhouse carnival ride (including an actual carnival for good measure) that live up to the first film.
Through Bill’s character (as well as a cute cameo from A Certain Author), Muschietti and Dauberman seem to be trying to head off fan disappointment and expectation at the pass, winking at the audience about Bill’s bad endings. Yet, while Chapter Two is undoubtedly not the nuclear slam dunk that the first film was, it establishes itself well enough that it feels emotionally satisfying and appropriate rather than some huge betrayal or letdown. It captures another element of King’s style and proclivities, one which isn’t as effortlessly attractive as Chapter One’s endless summer. Just as with Stand By Me or The Shawshank Redemption and others, It is ultimately a story about people reckoning with their past and moving away from their trauma, all while sharing a connection and a bond that they actively seek to continue rather than fear finding again. Scars fade, seasons change, the dirt and the blood falls and washes away. But people still hold on to each other, their intimate secrets shared with each other, allowing them to grow stronger and move forward. It’s a sign of growing up even a multidimensional monster can marvel at and appreciate.