Saturday, 7 September 2019

Review: IT - Chapter Two

Cert: 15 / 169 mins / Dir. Andy Muschietti / Trailer

And so, two years on from the beginning of Andy Muschietti's re-adaptation of Stephen King's clownathon, we skip forward 27 years from the original 1989 setting*1. While most of the Losers' Club members moved away from Derry long ago, Mike remains in the town. Over the intervening years, he's become obsessed with the legend of Pennywise the clown and the raft of child murders associated with his appearances. Now that strange occurrences are beginning again as predicted, Mike gets in touch with his old comrades. They made an oath to destroy the creature should it return, and their time is approaching...


And it works. Largely. Despite the things I'm about to go on and list. It's not always a smooth ride and certainly not a short one, but despite my misgivings this is certainly a counterpart to Chapter One and a proud sibling to that film. While there are pacing issues in the second act, the movie never drags and never feels too long. The casting is strong*2 and it's paid off as the generational links between protagonists is near seamless, with all of the players taking things seriously enough to paper over any small cracks. Bearing in mind that I'm probably not the target audience for this, It: Chapter Two has many things working in its favour.

But rarely before have two halves of the same story felt so strongly interactive, yet like completely separate entities. It's all sourced from Stephen King's original work*3 obviously and Andy Muschietti returns to direct, but whereas Gary Dauberman was one of three credited screenplay writers for Chapter One, here he shoulders that burden alone. And it is something of a burden. While the sequel is definitely a worthy continuation of the Losers' Club story, this feels like it's abandoned a lot of what made the first entry solid, rather than building upon it. We're in more contemporary 'jump-scare and nightmare-logic' territory this time, at the cost of Chapter One's charm and focus.


By its very definition this isn't a tween adventure. The film, like its central characters, is now more jaded - more cynical. Also like the characters, it seems to have forgotten what held the first movie together. Namely, the clown. Pennywise is almost relegated to a footnote in his own story while we spend time with the grown-up-gang. And that would be fine if the screenplay explored their re-bonding after so many years apart, but what we get instead is a reunion meal, then them literally being sent off on their own for a series of micro-adventures, which by necessity do not involve the fellow club-members.

It's at this point where the movie really begins to sag with the heavy use of interwoven flashbacks*4. These utilise the cast from the first movie (which is great, obviously), and while some have been filmed at the time of Chapter One's production, others have clearly been shot late in the production cycle of the sequel, since the kids have really, noticeably aged. As Muschietti has no doubt learned, you get a narrow production-window with a cast that young so use it wisely (it's all very well going 'yeah, this bit is like a hallucination not a memory', but young Ben there looks like he needs to leave the set and have a shave).


As much as IT buzzes along at a gamely rate, the movie is plagued with inconsistencies. The line between reality and illusion isn't just blurred, it's actively ignored. Young Henry Bowers was incarcerated in a psychiatric institution after the events of the first movie, and is now being haunted by his deceased teenage cohort Patrick. Zombie Patrick appears like a figment of the imagination, yet has physical agency in the real world. Then we see Zombie Patrick literally driving a car to break Henry out of jail. Henry continues his reign of psychotic terror, unsure in his own mind exactly what's real anyway. This in itself is arguably a more interesting story than the return of the clown. And then we don't see Zombie Patrick again, as if he'd always just been a manifestation of Henry's mind. But can a manifestation cut a five-foot slit up a chain-link fence? Don't worry about that, it won't be explained*5.

What's more worrying is a running joke established in the first act, that Georgie's older brother Bill has now become a writer of horror fiction and the endings of his books and screenplays are consistently bad. At first this seems like a self-effacing gag on the part of Gary Dauberman or Stephen King. Then around the third or fourth time they make this crack, the feeling arises it this may in fact be a pre-emptive apology for the film the audience is watching. A sort of 'guys, don't say we didn't warn you'. The finale, when it arrives, is more a series of interlinking callbacks designed to produce short-term nostalgia, but that actually make little sense within the context of the story*6.


And so we arrive back at the sewer for the climactic showdown. How is the Losers' Club going to defeat this malevolent force*7 which has been terrifying the town for centuries? That's right, they bully it to death! YAY! With a steadfast 'you're not going to push us around any more', a gang of kids who first met through being picked on by their peers, families and townsfolk - the gang of kids whose collective power should by all rights be unity and compassion - decide to back the creature into a corner and literally shout belittling abuse at it until the thing withers to almost nothing. At this point they step up to physical harm by removing its heart and crushing it to a pulp. The underdogs become the oppressors in a tale as old as time, having finally tasted for themselves the intoxicating liquor of power.

I'm not sure if that's supposed to be the moral of more than five hours of cinematic run-time, but fair play to Dauberman/King for the unflinching realism...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Erm... IT?

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you enjoyed the first chapter, yes.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
If you enjoyed the first chapter, yes.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, it is not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Either that or we'll enthusiastically agree at-length.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of BB-8 is in this, and he makes a Jabba The Hutt reference.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Because with the best will in the world, I don't think this is as strong as Chapter One. And while I know every movie has to stand on its own merits, it'd be a bit odd if a viewer didn't compare this to its immediate predecessor...

*1 No, really though. If the child disappearances of IT move forward in 27-year cycles and if Chapter One takes place in 1989, why are we getting this movie in 2019 and not 2016? We didn't even get the opening-half in 2016. How is this brand-synergy? Who's in charge over there? [ BACK ]

*2 Now my first reaction on seeing the full trailer for Chapter Two was 'Wow, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain? That is some fucking casting!' Then I remembered that both of those were happy to turn up in the execrable Dark Phoenix earlier this year, and that was that little flame of excitement firmly quenched... [ BACK ]

*3 And I know that King has a longstanding tradition of making cameo appearances in screen adaptations of his work, but the five-minute turn he puts in here is bordering on M. Knight Shyamalan levels of 'okay please stop talking now and cut to the next scene thank you very much'. Christ on a bike... [ BACK ]

*4 Wait, when the fuck did this 'underground clubhouse' thing happen?? The gang got together when the clown-shit was beginning to escalate in 1989, and Beverly left town the day after it was over. When did they all have the time to hang around in Ben's woodland bunker (y'know, like a secret, isolated underground location is a sensible place to go when you're being group-stalked by a magical force who can appear fucking anywhere)? You were doing this for weeks during the Summer of 1989 and didn't think to even mention that during the story which took place in the Summer of 1989? Okay mate, okay... [ BACK ]

*5 Typical exchange:
"Right, you can't bail because we need all of us to perform the ritual to destroy the clown."
"But... Terry isn't here because he killed himself rather than star in this film, so what does it matter if I just-"

And yes, of all the 'tokens' used to represent heroes, I notice they use a quick aside about spiders to give the Jewish kid a shower cap. A fucking lot to unpack there, and this isn't really the place so...
[ BACK ]

*6 Okay look Gary/Stephen, I'll give you the fairground/hall-of-mirrors setpiece. We've already had a brilliant one of those this year, but you started this with the clown-motif so fair enough. But the talking severed head is just an Evil Dead nod isn't it? And you've recreated the Dianoga sequence in the water from Star Wars? And you've thrown in a 'don't look into the Ark' reference from Raiders? Oh, mate.

(like I've said previously, I have not read IT and I don't really remember the 1990 TV version in any detail. If all of these things are in the originals then fair play, but three of the above references still pre-date the 1986 book so my point still stands.
Do not @ me. [ BACK ]

*7 Which is shown earlier to be an alien, by the way. Pennywise may be the current physical projection of the creature's manifestation in the world, but we see through Mike's mushroom-induced vision that 'IT' came to earth and has nested in its own crash-site, hibernating for 27-year stretches between feeding. What ever righteous method the gang use to defeat this threat, it's not a supernatural or metaphorical adversary, but an actual, telepathic, shape-shifting, literal alien. Just keep that in mind...
[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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