Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers
Ever since the Losers Club took an oath to reunite if Pennywise ever inflated his red balloon again, fans have been counting the days until the Dancing Clown would rise from the sewers to prey on Derry children once more.
Pennywise floated back into theaters September 6th in one of the most highly anticipated, talked about films of 2019, It: Chapter 2. Due to this astronomical hype, opening weekend amassed $91 million domestically and $185 million globally.
Esteemed director Andy Muschetti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman have returned with acclaimed actor Bill Skarsgaard who reprises his role as the infamously demonic Pennywise. The cast is all new, but packed with A-listers such as James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader as Bill Denbrough, Beverly Marsh, and Richie Tozier respectively.
Based on the second half of Stephen King’s 1137 page novel Chapter 2 jumps 27 years forward, where we see the protagonists as adults with firmly grounded, separate lives. Only one of the seven club members, Mike, has remained in Derry, to keep a vigilant eye out for any sign of Pennywise’s resurgence.
The opening sequence of the film establishes the group’s childhood reprehensions as real and Pennywise’s murderous appetite as more voracious than ever. He has now expanded his bloody menu to include both adults and children.
After Pennywise devours a Derry resident, Mike calls the others home in hopes of finishing the clown off for once and for all. However, he is disheartened to find his childhood allies have all but forgotten the experience they endured together. Mike is tasked with convincing the now successful Losers, to disrupt their lives, return to Derry and fight a demon they no longer remember or believe in.
With authentically written characters and remarkable casting choices, it’s easy to believe the protagonists are indeed the adult versions of their teenage counterparts. Chapter 2 writers take a character-driven approach that is well crafted and emotionally resonant. We empathize with every one of the Losers as they struggle to confront Pennywise and themselves.
After returning to Derry, each character begins to experience visceral flashbacks while trying to recall their childhood horrors. The visions also serve to create a sense of nostalgia as we see the Losers Club as children again. Those who prefer strictly linear storylines may find the numerous flashbacks repetitive, but the film is ultimately about making peace with the unresolved trauma of our past, so time jumps are essential.
While every cast member delivers a spectacular performance, Bill Hader, as Richie, is the clear standout. He steals virtually every scene with his range of emotion, whether he’s rattling off witty jokes, building tension with subtle signs of psychological distress, or evoking tears with heart wrenching revelations. He’s an emotional mess, and all the more lovable for it.
The other immaculate performance comes from Bill Skarsgaard as Pennywise. He encapsulates the perfect balance of utter creepiness and absolute absurdity in a way that’s surprisingly sympathetic (as sympathetic as an unholy, killer clown can be anyway…). From his wicked line-delivery to his inhuman physicality, Skarsgaard offers up one of the most masterful villain performances since Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker.
Unfortunately, while the characters and cast are phenomenal, this sequel doesn’t live up to its predecessor for a few reasons. While characters’ flashbacks are justifiable when it comes developing the film’s theme of childhood trauma and redemption, there are plenty of other elements from the first film that just feel redundant and predictable. Seeing the same dilapidated refrigerator inside the same abandoned house with the same three doors are prime examples. Do you think Pennywise might come out of that gross kitchen appliance again? Might the characters open doors to see their unresolved childhood terrors? Yep….yawn. More original scenarios reflecting each character’s grown-up fears may have helped the film stand on its own.
And ironically, in a film brimming with stellar characterizations and performances, one of it’s greatest shortcomings is the underdevelopment of the Henry Bowers character, the gruesome bully of the Losers Club. He occupies a decent amount of runtime with no discernible impact. It’s a real insult to an audience when a character this uninteresting hijacks a films focus. For roughly 20 minutes, we sit dazed and confused as to why this character still exists.
The film’s most fatal flaw is the overall runtime at 2 hours and 49 minutes. The main premise is so straightforward that there is simply no justification for the length. A lack of editing slows the pace and creates uneven tonal shifts, leaving the film to play catch-up to achieve the grandness the finale promises. It’s not impossible to make a film this long while still retaining the interest of the audience as The Green Mile, another Stephen King adaptation, has shown us. It runs over 3 hours and yet it’s pacing doesn’t drag you behind for the ride.
It Chapter 2 will likely circulate around mainstream media for the next few months, and deservedly so. Rotten Tomatoes’ “Tomatometer” has it scaled at a 64% approval rating, and most other film sites have reached a similar verdict. Yet despite flaws, it still concludes the story of the Losers Club in a gratifying way and the performances alone are a reason to watch.
For anyone waiting to see a resolution for these wonderful characters; Chapter 2 provides a satisfyingly sweet payoff that you won’t want to miss. On the other hand, if you’re hoping for the eery terror Pennywise and his red balloon inflicted on audiences the first time around, you will probably find this sequel nothing more than a deflated disappointment.