(Head Geek’s note: This review is courtesy of friend of the Geekery, ProjectBlue.)
IT Chapter 2 was never going to be an easy movie to make. As a “cup half empty” type of person, all throughout 2017’s initial massive financial and critical success, I couldn’t help but wonder how they’d be able to pull off a sequel that functions as a very different film. Director Andy Muschietti nailed his first trip to Derry, getting a strong cast of kids, not relying too much on standard horror movie tropes (with very few jump scares) and weaving a tale that could easily have been very bad in the wrong hands. Interdimensional creature tormenting a community on a cicada-like schedule? Tough sell!
Yet, Muschietti prevailed. In my initial review, I gave IT (2017) an 8 out of 10. Honestly, after rewatches, I might rate it even higher now. So I was nervous all about the sequel, because there were plenty of ways it could have gone sideways. There’s a world where Warner Bros. studio execs started meddling, micromanaging, stunt casting, and “notes’ing” the movie to death after it hit those box office totals.
Luckily, that is not the world in which IT Chapter 2 was made. Yes, they got bigger names for the sequel. Headlined by Jessica Chastain as Bev, you’ll recognize most of the grown up Losers as anything but losers. Bill Hader continues an amazing run as Richie Tozier; between this and his HBO work on Barry, the guy is on an amazing hot streak. James McAvoy jumps in as Losers group leader Bill Denbrough. While the rest of the adult cast maybe aren’t household names, there’s no weak link among thiem. They took source material that could easily be lame or overacted and did justice to Stephen King’s work.
My other fear, though, was a little closer to the mark. The actual source material, 1986’s IT novel, is a trippy, mind-bending book that I always thought told the children’s story much better than the adult side of things. I thought maybe it was because I read it as a King-obsessed tween and I related better to them, but even on adult re-reads, I always preferred the young Losers’ story over the time jump present-day, grown-up Losers.
This doesn’t change with IT CHAPTER 2. Part of the big appeal for this mystical horror style, to me, is that it’s easier to relate to a child’s fear and how Pennywise the clown can play on that compared to an adult. Many of the scares in this movie fell flat for me, because I can’t see an adult acting out or responding in the same way to Pennywise. There’s one or two scenes involving the grown-up Eddie that tonally seem out of a different movie, causing them to land very flat.
Another issue I had was the use of the child cast again in this movie. While there was a nice blend at times, showing young and old seeing the same scenes from their own perspectives, in a nearly 3-hour movie, they could have easily skipped the kids this time without missing a beat. And that’s a shame, because they had such strong chemistry in part one. But they weren’t given anything nearly as interesting this time around.
Also, I’m not sure if it was just Inception’d into my head, but reading in the lead up to the film that they had to use de-aging techniques on the child actors made a couple of scenes with the young Losers really stick out as bad CGI for me. I mentioned it to family members that saw Chapter 2 with me, though, but they didn’t seem to notice.
Story-wise, it tracks very closely to the book. Slight variations on character paths and fringe characters to the grown up Losers that showed up later, were left out. Again, I’d agree with these cuts. While this movie was a good 20 minutes shorter than AVENGERS END GAME, it felt longer to me, another bummer. One change I’m not sure about was an additional character trait to Hader’s Richie. Not presented in the book, they took a path on Richie that would have been fine if it was fleshed out more or provided a bigger, deeper meaning within the story, but felt like an add-on for 2019’s sake and not to build a stronger character. Again, this one was subtle and in mentioning it to family afterwards, they didn’t even pick up on it.
Another gripe I had was the use of Pennywise. I thought Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise was amazing in the 2017 flick. He even surpassed Tim Curry’s portrayal in the 1990 miniseries, which I never thought was possible. Yet he has a much more subdued presence in this one and when he does appear, they often go bigger and louder compared to smaller and creepier, as they did in the first one.
With that said, IT Chapter 2 wasn’t as bad as I feared it could have been. The acting was strong, Hader made a great Richie, as every fan casting predicted, and Muschietti did a great job with what could have been very poorly-handled mystical elements. While most of this review has sounded negative, it comes from a space of someone that considers IT one of my top 3-4 books ever. I loved 2017’s IT, and even while I have gripes, Chapter 2 did exceed my expectations.