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It: Chapter 2 (2019) Review

Having seen the latest Steven King adaptation, It: Chapter 2 (2019), I wanted to give my thoughts on it. Spoilers galore!



The movie opens with two nameless men at the annual Derry carnival. The shorter of the two plays a game, while his taller friend watches. When the short man wins, he smirks and hands his prize to an upset little girl (who lost). She has a noticeable birthmark on her right cheek, and looks wanly up at him—until he hands her the little stuffed toy. Then, her face brightens.

The actual victor is crowned with a beaver hat by his friend. The short man replies, "Actually, I was never into beaver," and promptly kisses him. It is reciprocated, and the pair carry on, arm-in-arm. However, some spectators nearby take heed and make their disapproval known, calling the couple sexually-motivated slurs. The short man returns fire: "Meg Ryan wants her wig back!"

After a bit of saber rattling, the short man is lead away by his partner. They walk down a bridge, and discuss leaving Derry for New York. The gang interrupts them and the pair are savagely beaten. However, the short man is gutsy and continues to taunt his attackers. He is punched, kicked and degraded for several minutes, only to be thrown into the river. The thugs depart, leaving the tall man above water.

Rather than dive in, the tall man skirts the shoreline. His partner paddles frantically, calling for help. Nearing land, someone is there waiting for him—a clown with glowing eyes. Still in pursuit, the tall man arrives in time to see his partner in the arms of the clown. The clown leers demonically across the water before taking a massive bite out of his prey's torso. The tall man screams, struggling to see. Hundreds of red balloons have started to drift over the water, obscuring his vision. When they pass and he can see again, his partner and the clown are gone.


This scene ostensibly "sets the table," showing Derry's backward, violent nature and the return of an opportunistic Pennywise. It's also never mentioned again. The tall man survives, but disappears for the rest of the movie; so do the bullies. Cut to Mike, a member of the Loser's Club. He is listening to police radio chatter when something bends his ear. Hearing of a mutilated body found by the shore, he races to the crime scene. There, a bloody message is scrawled on the brickwork: "Come home."

The opening violence is brutal, but unconnected to the Losers' Club. Given that one of them is homosexual, I think this type of conflict would have been more dramatically impactful if tied to them, someone we recognize. For example, when Ben was tortured by the bullies in Chapter 1 (2017), it was well into the movie. Both characters had been introduced, and reacted back and forth leading up to the traumatic event. It felt connected, easy to follow while being part of something bigger.

Chapter 2 is pretty long (almost three hours), but the pacing feels made-for-TV (maybe due to its many similarities with the source material, which was adapted into a 1990s miniseries). Chapter 1 deviated away from that style. The second movie did not, adopting King's fragmented, hazy approach. This lessens the film's ability to generate emotional freight. So does the fact that while the Losers return, they do so without their childhood memories.

This plot device is explained after Mike summons the Losers' Club home. There are no nightmares, until then. One by one, the adults appear onscreen. None recall Derry or the Club. Except this amnesia is told to us, not shown. The actors are blank, when they should be confused. They don't seem to know each other, or feel at home. At the diner scene, they're effectively the faceless subjects in Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" (1942).


The Losers spend much of their time disagreeing about things they don't remember. At the reunion dinner, for example, the Losers pull out single-word slips from their fortune cookies: "Seems Like Stanley Didn't Cut It." Stanley was the seventh Loser, and never appeared. The Club doesn't know why. After a wacky hallucination sequence in where the cookies transform into bats, baby birds and eyes with tentacles, Bev says she knows that Stanley is dead, but also how and where he died. Out in the parking lot, she calls Stanley's wife, and sure enough, he's toast (which the movie already showed us, before the diner sequence).

Ben, another Loser, remembers Bev's earlier prediction, and she reveals her nightmare to the Club: that all of them are going to die if they don't stop Pennywise now. She recalls it as if for the first time, however. When she's initially reintroduced, she's with her husband. We do not know who he is or how they met. Then, Mike calls, asking Bev to return. However, the husband won't let her (thanks to past events, which are never shown or explained to us). They scrap. Hard. After a protracted tussle, Bev escapes out into the rain, plucking off her wedding ring as forgetfully as Tom Bombadil.

This scene is never mentioned again; at no point during it does Bev dream, and she certainly doesn't remember the Club to have a nightmare about. Instead, she tells them (and us) about it, in the parking lot. When she does, we're not shown the dream; we don't know its exact contents, or when it occurred. This blank, selective memory only flattens the movie's affect. The group is confused, but in the manner of people who only know what they're told—which is odd considering these revelations concern their childhoods. The problem is, even if they don't remember, we do, and we're forced to sit and watch unrecognizable variants of our heroes saying they have amnesia.


This concerns the adult Losers, who must "remember" their forgotten memories by uncovering tokens from their past. When they enter a childhood space, however, the adults disappear, watching their younger selves from off-screen. Unlike the adults, the children are never in danger. The adults are, but face highly repetitive cartoon monsters (usually some variation of the zombie).

These creatures do not follow Pennywise's MO by evoking the adult Losers' active fears; they simply give the adults something to do. I would have preferred the Losers reacting to the token memories. Alas, the Losers are forced off-screen, or repeating exactly what was said by their younger selves twenty-seven years earlier. For example, Adult Bev reads her secret admirer's poem as if for the first time; we know better, and tap our toes, waiting for her to come 'round.

Eddie, meanwhile, goes to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. He mirrors how his younger self walked to the counter, and the owners, aged, remember and treat him the same. At some point, he goes into the basement, where he finds his dear departed mother, strapped to a gurney. Out from the shadows, a zombie approaches. Unable to free her, Eddie watches Mom... get tongued to death. I shit you not. Of course, I'm fine with this kind of scene; a similar scenario happened in Frankenstein (1818) during Victor's dream. In Eddie's case, I suspect Pennywise is to blame, but I'm still not sure why Eddie went downstairs to begin with. Had he waited at the counter for his token, everything would've been fine.

Mike and Bill's tokens are redundant, repeating scenes from Chapter 1. This means that apart from Richie, who we learn is homosexual, these scenes teach us nothing new about the Losers; to that, most of them learn nothing new about themselves (these are old memories). Everyone's clueless except for Mike. Apparently he remembers everything because he never left Derry. Yet, he also hides what he knows—from the Losers and from us. We don't know this until we're told, and Mike, despite being a literal know-it-all, is pretty selective about when and where he spills his stingy guts. I felt the writers forcing me into a position of ignorance—a curtain to drape over the film's grand guignol, while the latter simplifies the emotional content on display.


Sometimes, even this fails. Take Bill, Bev and Ben's love triangle. Despite their collective amnesia, Ben remembers Bev—to the point that he kept his yearbook page in his wallet for twenty-seven years. Yet, by the time we're told this fact, the movie is almost over. This means during the earlier token quest, Ben went to school to retrieve an object he... already had? Meanwhile, Bev thinks that Bill wrote the poem, and Ben cannot tell her the truth because [insert convenient distraction, here]. As paradoxes, delays and misunderstandings are thrown in front of us, the formula is woefully transparent. 

When the reveal is nigh, a flurry of tacky gore takes center stage. Ben and Bev survive and finally(!) fall into each other's arms. The happy music swells... only to stop. There's no time to celebrate or acknowledge an important event; we have Pennywise to kill! And by the time they do, Ben and Bev's success is reduced to a footnote, glossed over by Mike's disembodied voice. So much of what I wanted to see is opaque, non-existent, or denied. This includes Pennywise, who, outside of the token quest sequences, has two whole scenes to make mischief (these are good, but one of them is completely detached from everything else—again).

Finally revealed in the cave, Pennywise is giant and powerful. Alas, the scene goes on and on, with strobe lights blaring the entire time. It's also chopped to pieces. There's a moment with Richie that is pretty unnerving to watch, but all in all, the carefully maintained wonder and awe from Chapter 1 is gone—cored out for a whole lot of noise and recycled gags. The surface level enjoyment lands a few punches, but doesn't score a knockout. The blaring music and sobbing actors feels forced.

I also felt constantly confused (and let down) by Mike. There's nothing wrong with an "unreliable narrator." However, Mike is deliberately vague. When clarity and transparency would have served their quest better, he consistently manages to confuse and endanger everyone. He doles out crucial information one piece at a time, and with questionable methods. When he lies to the group, they refuse to trust him. To regain their trust, he drugs Bill with peyote—to help him see the whole truth.


As a result, much of the narrative is hopelessly unreliable, tardy and out-of-joint. This includes the lore: Pennywise's human body and past, shown during Bev's token scene. Much later, when the Losers are in the cave, Mike explains (for the first time) that the crash site is actually millions of years old; when Pennywise is near-death, he calls himself the Eater of Worlds. So why is he a clown whose origins only date back several centuries? What has he been eating for the countless eons before Derry was built? Nothing adds up.

This includes the action. The Losers try a Special Ritual using the tokens... which fails because, according to Mike, the group didn't believe hard enough (rather unfair, given how starved they are for information). Turns out, the Native Americans had no better luck, though Mike conveniently left this part out. "Why?" they shout at him. Who knows.

It's alright, though! Mike has a backup plan: Pennywise has a special weakness (which Mike also knew about, but neglected to mention). Teased throughout the movie as "All living things must abide by the shape they inhabit," the group hatches a plan: to lure him into a tunnel so that he'll shrink down to a human-sized clown. I have no idea why they thought Pennywise would do this, considering he spends the whole battle giant-sized, trying to grab them by reaching into a tunnel.

Nonetheless, they put their plan into action, and it makes no sense in hindsight. As Pennywise attempts to claw into a nearby tunnel, the group sneaks past him using a different tunnel so they can move into... yet another tunnel. Here, it seems like they could've just called to him from the tunnel they were already in. They don't, and Pennywise hears them sneaking behind him. With tremendous speed, he blocks their exit, trapping them out in the open. Then Mike reveals his dumbest twist yet: There's no need to outwit Pennywise. Simply tell him his mother is fat!


I'm not kidding. Apparently the Great Old One has self-esteem issues. And guess what? Mike knew this the whole time! At this point, I really started to think Mike was the villain. True, his clueless friends were doomed to die if they didn't kill Pennywise. However, Mike could have saved them a lot of pain by telling them Pennywise's silver bullet. Why use garlic on a vampire when the stake is far simpler and safer?

Imagine my disappointment, then, in seeing the Big Evil shit-talked to death. His bloodlust fades instantly and he shrinks into a cute, tiny clown blob. The Losers surround him and dismember him. They pull out his heart, to which he coos "You're all grown up!" I actually felt kind of bad for him, (and bemused as to what his exact role was—in the world's strangest rite of passage). The Losers make their escape, but not before crying over Eddie's death. They leave him in the chamber, which disintegrates.

During the epilogue, Mike mails the Losers duplicate letters from Stanley. Stanley explains post-mortem that he was afraid, and would always be. Because everyone in the group needed to be brave, Pennywise would have used Stanley's fear to remain invincible. So Stanley removed himself from the board. Mike knew all of this. He also knew the tokens were meant to give the others strength, but kept silent, focusing instead on a ritual that was historically proven to fail. As a result, the poor Losers had no idea, which you might think would make them more confused and scared. To this, Mike's gambit—asking his friends to stand up to Pennywise with mere words—seems cruel and stupid. Yet, Stanley's suicide letter suggests a master plan.

Like I said, it's a mess. Somehow things work out, though. I would have cared more if the script wasn't so oblique. Instead, I felt pushed out. Had the monster effects been consistently good, they could have made for a good crutch. There's a couple of gems, to be sure—some Rob Bottin hero worship—but much of it was derivative and redundant. The movie is too loose, too long and too vague to recommend—a large step down from the first.

***

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