REVIEW: “Treads water over territory previously explored” – ‘IT: Chapter 2’ (2019)


“Engaging, but lacking in thematic depth.”


IT Chapter 2 finishes off the Loser Club’s story with a behemoth of a film that’s fixated on the past. Of course, this seems fitting considering that this film’s events rely on the 27 year cycle of the central shape-shifting creature. There’s definitely room to explore how time has changed the Loser’s Club– specifically, altered what they’re afraid of. Unfortunately the execution squanders this potential, resulting in a film that only treads water over territory previously explored in the fantastic Chapter 1 more than it justifies it’s own existence. Luckily, due to solid performances and satisfying narrative tidbits it manages to be a watchable capstone to the groundwork laid out in Chapter 1.

The film starts off with a decidedly brutal scene that, once the end credits roll, seems fairly pointless. Initially, it suggests that Chapter 2 may intend to have a larger cultural conversation about where the horrifying aspects of our society live, and how the normal residents of Derry may be aiding Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), but instead simply ends up feeling like an unnecessarily nasty plot point that could have easily been replaced.

This sort of aimless terror is indicative of the larger differences between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, and how Chapter 1 is stronger; in the first one the scares were narratively driven, clearly reflecting some traumatic aspect of the character’s lives back at them. Remember Beverly’s (Sophie Lillis) bathroom scene? After her father comments on how he wants her to remain a little girl forever, hair and blood are thrown up from the sink, trapping her and coating her in gore, showing us just how terrifying a prospect puberty was for Beverly. The frightening scenes in Chapter 2 are simply spooks, often relying on imagery established in the previous film but have no bearing on the lives the Losers Club after twenty-seven years of lived lives.  What do these adults find frightening? How does the world traumatized and brutalized them now? Not exploring this causes Chapter 2 to pale when compared to Chapter 1. That’s not to say that they’re bad scares– they’re mostly engaging, but almost always lacking in thematic depth.

In the era of Stranger Things, wherein Steven King’s influence is undeniable, the potential of a story that challenges who we think we were is appropriate– even poignant. The narrative potential here is massive. Unfortunately Chapter 2’s focus is on simply replaying the past as opposed to complicating it. Eddie still fights the Leper. Bev still can’t face her home life. Bill is still grieving Georgie– all of which is fine, but it’s presentational and thematic underpinning also remains unchanged, telling  us that these characters may not have enough of a story for a sequel. Bill Hader and Finn Wolfhard’s Richie is the exception to this trend, with his Chapter 2 arc shining light on and complicating his Chapter 1 self, as well as simply being an engaging arc on its own.

Chapter 2’s reliance on its predecessor is often quite literal, as it consistently features flashbacks to the previous era of their lives. This prevents it from creating an identity for itself. Again, this could have worked if the film consistently subverted the pre-established status quo as it did with Richie. As it is now, however, the additions mostly feel like compelling scenes from Chapter 1 that simply distract from the sequel. 

Additionally, the character arcs from Chapter 1 have have been erased. Eddie (James Ransone), for example, conquered his germaphobia and reliance on his mother in Chapter 1. Having his opening scene showing him popping a pill and talking to his wife who clearly resembles his mother resets him. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Chapter 2 fails to ever really explain what these resets mean for the Losers. 

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Fortunately the solid group dynamic established in Chapter 1 has carried over to the new cast. Hader’s Richie is as funny as Wolfhard’s, Chastain’s Beverly is as dynamic as Lillis’s, Ransone’s Eddie is as feverish and endearing as Grazer’s. The exception to this is Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) who, aside from occasional expository dumps, was a non-presence and was wasted. You’d think that being the only one to stay in Derry between films would lend him an interesting position, but that’s never explored. Overall, it’s a good cast, and seeing them work off one another will keep you entertained, and will distract you from all the wheel-spinning character work.

Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, when given a chance to truly dig in, is utterly fantastic. His combined work between the two films has landed him among the all time great horror performances – he truly is a scene stealer. Unfortunately, Chapter 2 relies much more heavily on CGI than its predecessor did, thereby never really giving him a chance to shine. It’s unfortunate that a horror performance of this calibre wasn’t given more to do.

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Speaking of the scares, this one is certainly less frightening than its predecessor. This is mostly due to both the aforementioned reliance on CGI, and their detachment from the characters themselves. Pennywise’s CGI tongue is unsettling, but it’s got nothing on the chaotic and violent energy of the flooded basement scene from Chapter 1.

Another aspect where Chapter 2 fumbles is the lore of Pennywise. Brief and grating references to some ambiguous indigenous American celestial history is attempted, but it lands flat and ultimately seems worthless. Even something as simple as “What did they actually do to him in Chapter 1?” is ignored. The film left me with more questions about the nature of Pennywise than answers. I guess I’ll have to read the books.

In the end, the film feels more like a competent retread than a necessary addition.  A few of the payoffs from lingering threads in Chapter 1 are appreciated, and the thinly made additions are good, but the film ends up lingering far more on known territory than bravely tackling something new and provocative. The directing is fine, but it lacks much of the spooky atmospheric work done in Chapter 1, instead going for louder and more gratuitous scares. Its saving grace is the casting, with Bill Hader, James Ransone, and Bill Skarsgård excelling in particular. I can’t help but wonder how the same team that made Chapter 1 made Chapter 2 – how all the things they got right in Chapter 1 are seemingly ignored. There was a mountain of potential to explore the evolution of these characters, but instead it simply feels like one of those unnecessary modern day revivals of series long dead. The original did well– why not just do it all again? Maybe the real shape shifting horror was corporate greed all along.