“You said you liked the ending!” bemoans the writer Bill Denbrough to a snazzy Hollywood director working on an adaptation of one of his novels. “Yes, that was a lie,” the director says matter-of-factly, berating Denbrough for not having come up with a new ending that would greatly improve upon the old one. Denbrough, like the writer he represents, struggles with endings in a very meta way in the highly anticipated sequel It Chapter Two.
Chapter Two is like a lot of sequels – even more of the same, with its blend of 80s-style adventure and horror that made the 2017 film such a big hit. But every time that Chapter Two dredges up the running gag about how Bill – and really, Stephen King himself, the author of the book inspiring the films – can’t figure out a good ending worth a damn, it serves as an unnecessary reminder that this whole film feels like an extended climax.
The rest of this article contains spoilers.
The Return of the Losers Club
The 2017 film that told the first half of King’s seminal work was set in Derry, Maine, in the late 1980s. The seven child leads of the film dubbed themselves the Losers’ Club as they face off against the demonic monster clown Pennywise lest he gobble them up by manifesting their unique fears in real life. Director Andy Muschietti was able to blend genuine adolescent chemistry among the leads with a funhouse style of horror with the first It. The second one, however, is constantly reminding us about the ending — the end of the first film, what the end of the second one might be, and so on. And risky or not, it’s a poor creative choice because all it does is emphasize that this movie’s ending is pretty wanting. We’ve seen it before.
The running gag about endings applies as much to King as to his fictional avatar Bill Denbrough, if not much more so. (James McAvoy, who plays the adult Bill and keeps getting mocked for his endings, has a brief scene in which he interacts with an antique-shop owner played by King himself.) King’s concepts and ideas often lead to fascinating, perceptive literature that blends character development with genuine, distinctively horrific images and ideas. But his endings are not his strong suit; the setup and building tension work just fine, but the climaxes aren’t so hot. There are some cinematic exceptions – The Shawshank Redemption’s conclusion is elegiac and moving, and The Shining’s revised ending is haunting for its brevity. They are, though, just that: exceptions to the rule.
The problem with It: Chapter Two is different, in cinematic form, from other King adaptations: it’s basically all about the ending from the very setup. Set primarily, though not entirely, in 2016 (27 years after the events of the first film), Chapter Two makes clear early on that the murderous Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) has returned and is wreaking havoc once again on the citizens of Derry. (Outside of the Losers Club, Pennywise attacks, or tries to attack, a few other kids as well as an adult in the opening scene.) The only people who can stop the monster are the same ones who did as kids: the grown-up versions of the Losers’ Club. The only issue is that just one of them, Derry librarian Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), even remembers what happened; the others all seem to have forgotten until Mike calls them and reminds them of the oath they swore as kids.
A Case of Convenient Amnesia
The broad strokes of all of this are the same as what occurs in King’s novel, with the key difference being that King’s novel didn’t split things essentially in two. The adult and kid versions of the characters shared focus from one section to the next, as opposed to each existing in just one half of the 1,000-plus-page book. As such, the real issue with It Chapter Two is that it feels like a remix of what made the first film special while very slowly wrapping things up.
That, in no small part, is because a lot of what occurs in Chapter Two is essentially a retread of what happened in Chapter One with little sense of deeper characterization or development. The arguable point is that the past keeps repeating itself, no matter how hard you try to change things. Bill, once he recalls (even briefly) the Losers Club and their tangles with Pennywise, regains his stutter and spends most of the film grappling with the guilt he still feels about his younger brother’s death decades ago.
The adult version of Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is revealed to have married an abusive man just like her father was, and upon her return, she’s beset by memories of her old man’s cruelty. Ben (Jay Ryan) has grown up to be fit, healthy, and handsome, but back in Derry, he struggles to feel like anything other than a lonely, overweight little boy. Many of the characters, too, seem to encounter their past selves in reflecting on more parts of their childhoods, only heightening the lack of chemistry among the adult actors whereas the kids all seem fairly bonded to each other from the get-go.
Even More of the Same
The sense of an extended ending is coupled by the mythology surrounding Pennywise, which winds up seeming awfully silly compared to the character’s monstrous forms. Mike reveals that Pennywise can be destroyed by completing a Native American ritual that would trap the clown in its native state permanently. (He learned this by taking part in a kind of vision quest with hallucinatory drugs, because…y’know, why not.) The steps of the ritual first require all of the grown Losers to return to Derry, before finding artifacts from their past that they can sacrifice. Within the confines of this movie, that quest for artifacts simply means that screenwriter Gary Dauberman needed to figure out a way to separate the adult ensemble so they could have terrifying encounters of their own before returning in the protracted finale.
In some ways, It Chapter Two is the perfect case study of a sequel, as it is very much more of the same. (As you may already know, the film is 169 minutes, and absolutely does not need to be.) Where the first film just had the kids, this one has adult versions of those kids and the kids themselves. There’s more of Pennywise, there’s more of the latent racism, sexism, and homophobia running rampant in Derry, and so on. Some scenes end up just feeling like reworked versions of setpieces from the first film. At one point, Bev is stuck inside a toilet stall that begins spewing up blood, nearly drowning her just as blood drowned her adolescent self in a bathtub in the first film. Bill once again winds up at the same sewer drain where his brother Georgie was killed, encountering Pennywise himself, before he re-encounters the same ghostly version of Georgie in his family home’s basement. Richie (Bill Hader as a grown-up, the clear standout) once again seems to spite the rest of the group, his cowardice manifesting as a way to cleave the group at a key moment.
Considering Chapter Two’s protracted length, it all becomes vastly more repetitive than truly scary, sometimes down to the style of horror being presented on screen. (There’s a lot of jump scares here, some of which are undoubtedly effective, but they often boil down to a giant, mal-formed version of something normal attacking our heroes. Everything from an old lady to a Pomeranian to a statue of Paul Bunyan gets this treatment, and it starts to get very predictable.) And the mythology ends up feeling awfully unnecessary in terms of vanquishing Pennywise. While all of the Losers’ artifacts are accounted for (Stanley is the only one who is too scared to return, killing himself after being contacted by Mike as an adult), the ritual doesn’t actually seem to take Pennywise down.
All the Losers can do is a variation on what they did at the end of the first film: figure out how to scare Pennywise into going away. This time around, they just bully Pennywise to death, dubbing him a mimic who’s not really that scary, before he wilts away and vanishes for good. (During this scene, I could only wonder if J.K. Rowling was inspired by Stephen King when creating the fearsome boggart characters in the Harry Potter books, because Pennywise is essentially a more malevolent boggart.)
A Case of Diminishing Returns
It Chapter Two is not without its charms, of course. Hader is an inspired choice to play Richie, precisely because he’s very adept at cracking wise when he’s terrified. (A good chunk of lines that Hader has as Richie are pretty generic, of the “You gotta be kidding me!” variety. Hader makes them work because of his innate comic timing.) His byplay with James Ransone, playing the adult version of the asthmatic Eddie, is a lot of fun and full of depth, specifically as it relates to Richie’s sexuality. And because she’s immensely talented, Jessica Chastain is very enjoyable as the adult Bev, even as the character herself feels unexplored. Beverly’s husband has a much more integral role in the book; here, he’s relegated to an opening scene where he cruelly abuses his wife before she fights back and leaves for good.
And Andy Muschietti is able to construct a lot of different haunted-house-style scary moments, even as the characters within those moments often act without any logic driving their choices. (At one point, Richie wisely notes that splitting up the group to go their separate directions would be a very bad idea, after which everyone else essentially shrugs and just splits up anyway. And then Richie is proven right, over and over.) It Chapter Two does what most sequels are expected to do: it gives you exactly what made the first film special, and then gives you more of it, and more of it, and more of it. And like most sequels, by doing just about the same thing over and over, Chapter Two ends up being a case of diminishing returns. When all is said and done, It Chapter One felt like a full story. This is a tacked-on, three-hour epilogue that says everything the first film said, but louder and with less purpose.
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