IT AND MISS
It: Chapter Two (15)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader
Review: RJ Bland
It always baffled me a little bit that it took so long for a studio to remake Stephen King's 'It'. Widely accepted as one of the best King novels (it's probably the best in our eyes), the original TV mini-series (1999) has become something of a cult movie over the years, even though it's obviously far from perfect. In a world where remakes and reboots are all the rage, a ready made audience and a significant time lapse made it a mouthwateringly profitable prospect. Admittedly, attempting to make a movie out of a book as weighty as 'It' is not an easy task. It's why a new mini-series was initially mooted before a two-part movie series was decided upon by New Line. They must be high fiving themselves either way. 'It' (2017) has raked in over $700m worldwide – not bad for a film that cost just over $35m to make. From a fan point of view however, the reimagining of Pennywise and the Losers Club was also largely satisfying experience for critics and audience alike. Again, it wasn't perfect but it hit the mark in terms of emotional engagement and chills. A sequel was always going to happen regardless of audience reaction but it's fair to say that hopes and expectations have been rising the closer we have come to release date.
Twenty seven years after Pennywise was defeated by the Losers Club, they all get the call from Mike Hanlon (the only one that has stayed in Derry) who tells them that evil has once again returned to the city. Although all of them appear to have pretty much completely forgotten their childhood ordeal, they are all extremely reluctant to come back. However, a promise is a promise – so they all (barring one) head back to Maine to reunite after decades of being apart. They meet up at a Chinese restaurant and after some reminiscing and larking about, Mike explains to them that 'It' is back and is killing people once again. Laughter and nostalgia soon turns to despair as the group begin to remember bits and pieces from their childhoods. Whilst some of them are open to staying and hearing more, others are keen to get the hell out of dodge. With no apparent harmony within the group, they're not best placed to fend off the threat of Pennywise the Dancing Clown – or Henry Bowers, who is stalking them after his escape from a psych ward. They must stick together if they are to stand any chance of surviving...
First thing's first. Whoever was in charge of casting needs to be given a massive pat on the back. Actually, they deserve a standing ovation. Believing that the adult characters are actually fully grown versions of the ones we grew to love in the first movie was always going to be hugely important and here they knock it out of the park. McEvoy and Chastain are fab as Bill and Bev but James Ransome (Eds) and Bill Hader (Richie) are probably the pick of the bunch. It's especially important when the movie oscillates between modern day and flashback with such regularity (as 'It: Chapter Two' does).
That out of the way, there are other things to admire about this sequel - and others that disappoint. And whilst the good just about outweighs the mediocre, it still fails to live up to the quality of its predecessor and the source material as a whole.
In terms of acting, there's nothing to complain about here. The talented ensemble cast all give solid performances and are all likeable and easy to root for. Sure, they all look like they could be adult versions of the kids from the first movie but they all give performances that feel connected with their childhood equivalents. The chemistry between the adult losers works and for a film and story which is essentially about friendship, it's just as well. The film may be 160 minutes long but it doesn't overstay it's welcome, mainly because spending time with these characters is a lot of fun.
However, that's kind of where some of the issues stem from. The tone of the novel (and mini-series to a lesser extent) was, for the most part, very serious. Grave almost. The subjects explored and imagery that King invoked were harrowing in parts, wrenching in others. There were smatterings of humour in there in places and indeed Richie Tozier provided some light relief to proceedings. And whilst the concept of 'It' and CHUD and the Turtle were always fantastical and almost sci-fi, things always felt quite grounded and gritty and real. 'It: Chapter Two' attempts to tread that thin line between comedy and horror on numerous occasions and unfortunately, falls off more than once. If you lighten the mood too much it's hard to get the darkness back – and it proves to be one the film's undoings. In the third act in particular there are some almost comical moments that deflate any real sense of tension. 'It' is funny. But it's too funny for it's own good at times.
The comedy elements would perhaps not be quite so damaging if the horror elements of 'It: Chapter Two' were strong enough to withstand them. However, the movie lurches from one 'scare' to another, most of them ending in a big bunch of CGI teeth after the intended victim has made their escape (why is Pennywise so lame at catching people?). Two and half hours of this becomes a little trying. Muschietti's propensity for favouring jump scares and startling visual effects over atmosphere and dread is intentional for sure, but alas not as effective. That's not to say that some of these scenes aren't a lot of fun or moderately frightening. And there are a couple of scenes that are genuinely creepy (Bev's visit to her old house in particular). But ultimately the movie is a bit of a rollercoaster which is intent on one thrill after another. The thing is after you've peaked halfway through you don't really leave yourself anywhere new to go. 'It' should be the stuff of nightmares, not a spooky fairground ride.
The pacing is also worth mentioning. The film is pretty relentless and the running time whizzes by. However you almost feel as if the film needed to take a bit of a breather before and after key plot points. Characters frantically run from one scary set piece to another and although admittedly they have a lot to cram in, some subplots still feels like they could have been developed a little more. An 8-part mini-series may have actually given a more realistic chance to fully explore the mythos of Derry and it's characters. Maybe one day we'll get a chance to see that come to pass. In the mean time, we'll have to make do with this imperfect – yet largely entertaining – take on it.
On a final note, Skarsgard is great as Pennywise. He'll never quite be as unsettling as Tim Curry's disturbing portrayal but his turns in both 'It' movies have been a thing of (horrible) beauty.