The People v. IT: Chapter 2
Ever since Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows there has been a frustrating trend in blockbuster cinema: The Part One and Part Two structure. Almost without exception, these films suffer under the duress of this format where the first film is all set up and the second is all payoff. If that sounds unsatisfying it’s because it is. This structure usually means that the first film will lack any sense of finality or a cohesive arc for the characters and the second will spend most of its time trying to feel epic and conclusive so the characters and any genuine catharsis gets lost in the shuffle. Some are more successful at this, this past summer Avengers: Endgame proved nonstop spectacle and nostalgia-baiting CAN work as a narrative if you ground it exclusively in the consequences of Part One, but far more often audiences have to watch the narratives fall apart under the weight of Part One’s all-tension-and-buildup mandate and Part Two’s all-spectacle-and-payoff necessity.
So when I sat down to watch IT (2017), before my viewing of Chapter Two, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a prologue. That film plays very much like a tragic and horrific origin story for the heroes that will eventually save the day for real which is… weird, especially in a story about grief, trauma, and the pain of growing up in a cruel and vindictive world. That story was all about the circumstances that will hurtle Bill and Co. into the climactic battle in Part Two and despite being beautifully crafted and incredibly well paced it still suffered under the Part One restrictions where character arcs were shoved to the side and the audience was denied the feeling that what we just watched actually matters. All of that puts IT: Chapter Two in a very difficult spot, having to deliver on the full arcs for a large ensemble and not just finish the narrative but actually BE the narrative we were promised all along.
Unfortunately, IT: Chapter Two crumbles under that pressure. It starts strong, as soon as Mike sends out the Bat Signal the weight of what happened in Part One immediately hits us and it feels like Chapter Two is going to provide the traumatic resonance that the story needs. But despite that initial promise the tension quickly fizzles out. Once the characters accept their call to action the plot is stuffed into a repetitive structure that does its very best to bore you.
Each character wanders off to collect a “totem” from their past and the audience is forced to endure six flashback heavy sequences back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. They’re tedious, light on scares, and stall the plot so drastically that you’ll wish movie theaters had a fast forward function. As soon as the first sequence is over, you know more-or-less what’s going to happen in the other five.
Which, frankly, sucks. Despite the tediousness, most of them are solidly crafted character beats that actually give the Losers Club the interiority that the first film couldn’t. This is a good idea in theory as IT: Chapter Two has to play a lot of catchup on the character building front. But while it mostly succeeds at fleshing out the now grown up Losers, give or take some bizarre and/or repetitive beats, the rest of the film really suffers for it.
That bloat becomes emblematic of the rest of the film as the runtime is so stuffed with plotlines and sidebars that it’s hard to ever really feel invested. There’s rumblings of a supercut from director Andy Muschietti that combines both films into one and it almost feels like Chapter Two was designed with that in mind. There’s so much that could be easily lost and the film would be better for it.
The structural mess of IT: Chapter Two is unfortunate, but it doesn’t completely wipe out the bright spots. Most of the performances are excellent, with Bill Hader shining in particular, though it was hard to get on board James Ransone’s take on a grown up Eddie as it felt more like a caricature of Young Eddie than a genuine evolution of who that child used to be. That aside, the performances are what carry Chapter Two into the realm of watchability and provide the thematic through line that makes these two movies really feel like one piece. James McAvoy’s Bill aches with guilt and you can see that he’s still just trying to save Georgie after all these years, Jay Ryan’s Ben resigns himself to the background like the lonely fat kid he still is inside, Jessica Chastain’s Beverly struggles with the balance of seeking male approval and fearing the male gaze just like her wicked father raised her to. The trauma of their youths still feels alive and you can’t help but empathize and want them to succeed.
Those performances, along with Andy Muschietti’s eye for staging and inspired creature design, are why the movie finds any measure of success. It’s also why it’s hard to view IT: Chapter Two as a horror movie. The most damning thing that can be said about it is that it just isn’t that scary and that’s often the case because they’ve chosen to undercut any horror with jokes. It feels like the film itself is afraid to ever really let loose and it’s why you’ll enjoy it far more if you go into it expecting to see a comedy-thriller rather than any actual horror.
IT: Chapter Two is a mess. It’s not an unwatchable one, but it’s one that will feel all the more disappointing because of how much better it could have been if it had been allowed to take itself a little more seriously and get back to the basics of character and fright.
If you saw the first one, then sure. Just don’t pay for a theater ticket.