Review by Courtney Anderson
I’ve always kind of hated the original IT.
I feel as though many people will cite Stephen King’s “IT” as their first exposure to the truly horrific nature of clowns. Whether it was because they have read the novel or watched the original miniseries, a lot of people can definitively say that IT and it’s terrifying villain Pennywise are the source of their coulrophobia.
I am one of those people who never read the book, but I know more or less what happens thanks to my nerdy friends who did. I know the nearly 1200-page novel features extremely inappropriate group sex, some musings on the creation of the universe and an ancient, talking turtle. And I am very grateful that none of that made it into either adaption of the novel.
I only ever watched the original miniseries. And while Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise did justify my distaste for those damn clowns, it never really scared me. Honestly, the “IT” miniseries bored me because it was so damn long. I’m too young to have seen it when it premiered in its original four parts. I always saw the brutal 4-hour cut that made me want to bang my head against the wall for the last two hours of it. There’s only so much a wicked smile and a sharp set of teeth can do to scare a kid who’s attention span ran out less than 45 minutes into the “movie.”
Thankfully, I enjoyed Andy Muschietti’s 2017 version of IT a lot more. I appreciated the tone of the film, which was very “coming-of-age-with-a-demonic-clown”. I liked the film’s structure because I felt it managed to avoid the lag the first two episodes of the miniseries fall victim to. I thought the kids were perfectly cast and gave great performances. And I appreciated the changes made to Pennywise’s character; Muschietti’s Pennywise is the manifestation of fear, the type of fear that drives racism, homophobia and discrimination. Pennywise felt like a more grounded--and therefore, more effective--adversary for these characters. His is a narrative that clearly speaks to the ills of our generally jacked-up world. My only big issue with IT was with the lack of development for some of the characters, particularly Mike Hanlon, who disappears from the movie for a long stretch of time.
I was looking forward to IT: Chapter 2. I was excited by the casting, and I figured it would be just as good as the first time. But, somehow, IT: Chapter 2 takes everything I disliked about 2017’s IT and amplified it, creating a bloated movie that wastes its very talented cast.
IT: Chapter 2 has some serious structural issues, starting with that 2-hour-49-minute runtime. There’s nothing inherently wrong with long films; there are plenty of 3-hour films that manage their time wonderfully and are entertaining the entire time. IT isn’t one of them. The pacing for this movie is uneven, with the film either feeling too slow or entirely too fast. The majority of this movie’s run-time comes from padding and overly-long (and ineffective) scenes of peril.
At one point in the movie, Mike commands the other Losers to travel throughout Derry to find their “artifact”--basically, an item from their childhood that will help them jog their memories of Derry and Pennywise. Following each Loser on a separate, straightforward journey would’ve taken long enough, but the filmmakers also decided to include flashbacks to the Losers’ childhood and two separate Pennywise encounters for each Loser (one encounter in the past and one in encounter in the present). These sequences end up being too long for their own good. Pennywise’s antics get old after the first three or four times. The scares become more predictable and ridiculous with each Loser, and they do not offer any more insight into the Loser’s interior lives. For as long as these sequences are, we should be getting a lot of character development. But we don’t. We just get Pennywise making goofy faces and tormenting the Losers with those stupid red balloons.
That’s the other major issue I have with IT: Chapter 2; we don’t get any more character development than we got in the first chapter. In fact, at times it feels like the characters have been flattened, the adults becoming more one-dimensional than their younger counterparts. In chapter 1, the character I had the biggest with was Mike. In chapter 2, I have an issue with everyone, except for Bill. Bill Denbrough is the only one of the group that gets to make visible emotional progress in this movie. Everyone else is just kind of . . . there.
Unless they aren’t, which is what happens to Mike again in this movie. Chapter 2 is worse about it, though, because Mike should technically be the center of the movie (he’s the only Loser who’s stayed in Derry for the 27 years spanning the two movies). But he legit vanishes from the film for an uncomfortably long time, only to reappear when it’s time to help his friends complete a “ritual” to defeat Pennywise. Mike feels very much like an example of the Magical Negro Trope.
The rest of the characters don’t fare much better. Ben and Bev have gone from interesting, dynamic, sympathetic children to utterly flat adults. Bev’s either whispering about having bad memories or screaming at something scary. Ben spends nearly the entire time feeling jealous and insecure about Bev’s relationship with Bill, because he’s apparently held a torch for Bev for nearly 30 years. Eddie spends all of his time being the same anxiety-ridden, fast-talking hypochondriac he was in the first chapter. Muschietti makes an attempt to add a poignant layer to Richie’s character (explaining it would be a spoiler) but it’s such a flaccid attempt that it fell completely flat, leaving with us the same crude jokester Richie’s always been.
It’s quite sad, because this cast is immensely talented, and everyone looked and acted like they were very excited to be there. They were perfectly selected for their roles, especially Bill Hader as Richie and James Ransone as Eddie. They’re so much like Finn Wolfhard’s Richie and Jack Dylan Grazer’s Eddie that it’s actually a little weird. Their performances made me wish they were in a more carefully-crafted film, one that doesn’t rely on one-note characters and cheap scares.
This movie felt like a rehash of the previous one; it even has a disappointingly similar climax. The pacing issues and lack of character development prevent the audience from gaining anything new from the experience. It: Chapter 2 ultimately feels like a repeat of the first chapter. Only this time, it’s less fun.