IT: Chapter 2 stars James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Skarsgard and was once again directed by Andy Muschietti. It continues the adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name and follows the members of the Losers Club as they return to Derry as adults. Once back, they must remember the past in order to have a shot at destroying Pennywise once and for all. Much like with Chapter One, I got to experience IT: Chapter 2 in a way that very few people will be able to. I got to watch it in Derry.
Okay, so Derry isn’t real, but Stephen King did base that fictional town on the real-life city of Bangor. So, watching this movie a day before its official release in Bangor, surrounded by red balloons and Stephen King fans was pretty cool and definitely added to the atmosphere and experience of it all. IT: Chapter One is one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations, so I went into this sequel with pretty high expectations. The second half of the 1990 miniseries definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth for this particular material, but I’m really happy to say that not only does Chapter Two greatly surpass the miniseries, but it’s basically on par with Chapter One. As a fan of movies and Stephen King, this pair of films have been such a refreshing change of pace from the typical mediocre King novel adaptations we’ve been getting for decades.
Just like its predecessor, Chapter Two manages to deftly capture the essence of the novel without being a note for note copy. Admittedly, there’s absolutely no way to cram in all the scenes and details from the book, even with the nearly three hour runtime. As a result, things are certainly changed from the book. Entire sequences are removed, scenes are combined and tweaked, and really the whole story gets a bit of an update. But it works. It still feels like IT and it still feels like Derry. It’s a little weird living in the city that serves as the setting of a horror movie. It can get a little creepy at times, but I guess that should come as no surprise considering Stephen King lives here too.
The storm drain on the corner of Jackson Street looks a little different from Georgie’s encounter with it, but it’s here and was the original inspiration for this book. The Barrens are real too, even though we don’t call it that here. But, the Kenduskeag runs through it and there are vestiges of the old Bangor sewer system down there. The Derry standpipe is actually called the Thomas Hill Standpipe and the Paul Bunyan statue featured very prominently in this movie is real too, though his backdrop has changed a bit over the years. One of the most exciting and unexpected elements of this movie for me was just how much of the lore of Pennywise was actually used. Of all of Stephen King’s creations, Pennywise is arguably the most detailed and well-crafted.
The character has such an extensive backstory, especially as it relates to the town of Derry. Now obviously in a book that’s over 1,000 pages long, it’s not too difficult to get into those details. But in a movie, it’s a lot harder. And without some of that information and history, the story loses quite a bit of context and can seem kinda confusing and random. The second half of the miniseries is a perfect example of that. Other than some really brief and vague exposition, we don’t get a lot of information about Pennywise. Sometimes that ìunknown qualityî can really work for making something scary, but it ends up being more confusing than anything else in the miniseries.
We never get a clear sense of what IT is, where it came from, or why it’s here. Instead, we just see the Losers Club fighting a weird stop-motion spider. IT: Chapter 2 corrects that by providing us with some of that important contextual information from the novel. I’ve gotta admit that it’s been sixteen years since I’ve read this book, so many of the details have faded some over the years. But this movie made me feel like a member of the Losers Club returning to Derry. I was recalling details that I didn’t even remember forgetting. Things like the clubhouse or the true form of IT.
When Mike’s first describing the ritual to Bill, it’s like I was having one of the realization flashbacks from the movie and I actually mouthed the word ëCh¸d’ before he said Ritual of Ch¸d. I had completely forgotten about that whole thing. This movie maintains the tone of its predecessor by balancing unsettling (but not overly scary) horror with adventurous fun and quite a bit of humor. If you want a movie that’s gonna terrify you, you’ll want to look elsewhere cause this isn’t that movie. And it’s not meant to be. Pennywise is the first thing that everybody thinks of when talking about IT, but the story is really about the Losers Club and I think that’s pretty accurately reflected here.
We still get plenty of Pennywise moments here, but the focus is definitely on the Losers Club. And speaking of them, I think the casting for the adult Losers was fantastic. They all genuinely look and act like their kid counterparts from Chapter One. I was pleased with all seven, but I think Bill Hader as Richie, Jessica Chastain as Bev, and James Ransone as Eddie were definitely the standouts.
I really liked the approach that this film took with the storytelling. The book and the miniseries constantly crosscut between the young and adult Losers Club. Chapter One took a unique approach by only focusing on the kids, so I kinda expected the same thing here, just with the adults. And it definitely is the adult story, but it manages to work in pertinent moments with the kids. Some of it’s stuff we saw in Chapter One, but most of it’s new stuff that fills in the time gaps in the first movie. That type of flashback style could get confusing, but they do a great job here with the transitions.
Given its lengthy and frequently crazy source material, I think IT: Chapter 2 did a wonderful job, both as an adaptation and as a movie. That being said, I do think that it will ñ maybe ñ disappoint general audiences. Disappoint might be a little too strong of a word, but I think that many people will likely be expecting something different from this movie. If you’ve read the book and basically know how things go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re going into this movie with second-hand expectations of what Pennywise and IT are, you might find the end of this story a little odd and underwhelming.
The funny thing is, the movie knows you’re gonna feel like that. There’s a running gag throughout about how Bill, now a horror author, never writes good endings to his books. It’s obviously a light-hearted autobiographical jab at Stephen King himself, but it’s also a surprisingly self-aware jab at the movie too.
Like I mentioned in my reviews of IT: Chapter 1 and the Pet Sematary remake, there’s really nothing quite like watching a Stephen King movie in a Maine theater. Certainly everybody can appreciate and enjoy King’s stories, but living in Maine provides this extra level of understanding and solidarity that you can’t replicate anywhere else. So all of us sitting in the theater have this weird unspoken camaraderie that makes for a great experience.
People clapped every time the 207 area code popped up on a character’s cell phone or when they saw the old lobster plates on a character’s car. And the theater erupted into cheers and applause with a certain cameo. Audiences in any Maine theater would probably have the same reactions at those points, but there’s one moment that I don’t think would elicit the same reaction in any other theater in the world. Like I said, I saw this movie in Bangor (a.k.a. Derry). And there’s a scene in the movie that takes place in a Chinese restaurant. The establishing shot of that restaurant got gasps and then laughter from my audience and I can guarantee that that would not happen anywhere else.
So why that reaction? In that establishing shot, the name of that restaurant is revealed to be Jade of the Orient, as it was in the book. Just like many other aspects of Derry, Jade of the Orient was based on a real restaurant in Bangor called Oriental Jade which just so happens to literally be right next door to the movie theater I was in. I can guarantee you that there were people who had just eaten dinner there. Hopefully they had better luck with their fortune cookies. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the cast.
They really nailed it with the adult versions of the Losers Club. Not only do they all look like their younger counterparts and share the same mannerisms, but they can also act. They feel like real people and actually have chemistry. All of these qualities put them far ahead of the adult Losers Club from the 1990 miniseries. I was initially a bit skeptical of some of the casting choices (primarily Bill McAvoy and Isaiah Mustafa), but they do a great job.
Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, and James Ransone were the adult standouts for me, but the young Losers Club members and Bill Skarsgard also return in excellent form. There are also two fun cameos: one that surely everybody will recognize and one that might be a bit tougher to spot. I’ll give you a hint ñ one of the kids from the 1990 miniseries makes a very brief appearance here as an adult. Pro number two has gotta be the Pennywise lore.
It was so exciting to see some of this background and information finally make the jump to the screen. The 1990 miniseries left most of the lore out, which made the finale seem really random. That’s not to say things don’t get crazy here too, but information about Pennywise is provided throughout the movie, giving us some context to the weird stuff that happens. We learn what Pennywise is, where it’s from, when it got here, and what it wants.
The movie obviously can’t dive quite as deep into it all as a 1,000+ page book, but it’s able to pull the basic essence of the character from the pages to the screen. On the con side, my major issue stems from that book to film adaptation and is the quest-like nature of the story. I can’t pick on it too much since it’s inherent to the book, but it’s something that comes off a little weird in its film adaptation. We have all these characters reuniting, only to split them up again for decent chunks of the movie in order to remember things and find physical items.
With the continuous cross-cutting in the book, it never really seems weird, but it has a very distinct videogame-like quality in the movie. I’m gonna give IT: Chapter Two 4 out of 5 paws. I really loved the first movie and was really looking forward to this one, so I was a little concerned that my high expectations wouldn’t be met, but this was great. It continues the tone and version of the story put forward by Chapter One and brings it all to a fitting conclusion worthy of its source material.
I would recommend IT: Chapter 2 to fans of Chapter One. If you enjoyed that first movie, not only do you get the conclusion of the story here, but, thanks to Muschietti’s return to the director’s chair, the style and tone are the same as well. Fans of Stephen King can rest assured that this is another solid adaptation of his novel and is infinitely better than part two of the 1990 miniseries. If you liked IT: Chapter 2, the most obvious and apt recommendation would be for IT: Chapter 1. Not only is it the first part of the story, but it also has a very similar tone and captures the story in a way that respects the novel without being a blind copy.
I would also recommend Mama for another Muschietti-directed horror film. Not only does it share some of his visual style and camerawork, but it also stars Jessica Chastain. And if you want another good Stephen King novel adaptation that features psychological horror and a main character who’s an author, be sure to check out Misery. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen IT: Chapter 2? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: Pennywise takes the form of the thing his victim is most afraid of. So, how would Pennywise appear to you? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.