Movie Review: "It Chapter Two" (2019)
As a movie reviewer/critic/whatever the fuck you want to call me, I can say that being THE target audience for a film is an odd place to review from. People will say you’re a homer for the material and you’ll love it no matter what. The truth is that when a story is near and dear to your heart, you’re inclined to be infinitely more critical because you know and love the material on another level. I should add that Stephen King’s It (released in 1986) is my favorite book; I’ve read it at least once a year since the 4th grade (you do the math).
Clocking in at 2 hours and 49 minutes, It Chapter Two is over a half an hour longer than its predecessor…and it needs to be. Funny thing, though- it didn’t feel nearly that long to me. There wasn’t a point in the film where I wasn’t engaged and locked in. The first 45 minutes or so run at a more breakneck pace than the rest of the film, but that’s hardly a drawback. There has been some widespread criticism of the running time, and a new term has been coined: monsterpiece. I rather like that, as It Chapter Two is easily one of the boldest and most audacious horror films ever put before your eyeballs. Everything in the conclusion is turned up to 11- the nastiness, the heart, and the humor.
The adult cast- James McAvoy (Split) as Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain (Mama) as Beverly Marsh, Jay Ryan (The CW’s Beauty and the Beast) as Ben Hanscom, Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) as Richie Tozier, James Ransone (Sinister) as Eddie Kaspbrak, and Isaiah Mustafa (Horrible Bosses) as Michael Hanlon, are so perfectly chosen that you could be looking at one of those eerie computer aging programs. The physical aspect alone shows the importance of great casting, but they all go above and beyond in their performances from mannerisms to social tics. Bill Hader steals every scene like a 20th Level Rogue, and Jessica Chastain has moments where she simply takes your breath away. Neither of those are big surprises; they’re insanely talented. James Ransone, however, operates on a different level. Both he and Hader should win awards for this. Their relationship is the most touching and hilariously real thing I’ve seen in ages, timing and chemistry personified. R + E, that’s all I’m sayin’…
As for Bill Skarsgård, he’s sitting on a pedestal after this one. Tim Curry will forever be the Pennywise of my generation, but it’s not fair to compare the two performances. This Pennywise the Dancing Clown is childish menace taken to the Nth degree, a wobbly-eyed, buck-toothed terror with a sense of humor that would make the Joker piss his purple underwear. There’s no “classic clown” here as in the Curry version; he’s all teeth. Literally.
In the case of the wet stuff, there’s blood and gore for days and days here. The violence doesn’t flinch. The opener that takes place during the Derry Canal Days Festival is a tad hard to watch as it damn well should’ve been! Innocent victims are treated very badly, and no punches are pulled. Deserving of every bit of its R-rating, It Chapter Two is horror in its purest form and showcases a truly evil villain with zero redeeming qualities. It warms my black little heart. And that bathroom stall scene with Beverly…holy shit. So much blood.
As in 2017’s It, there are differences galore from the book (a massive piece of source material at 1,138 pages). Just like that film, the differences are tonally perfect. The gay-bashing death of Adrian Mellon is spot-on with the book, and the whole scene with the Paul Bunyan statue nearly brought me to tears of joy. The escape of Henry Bowers is still important and serves as real world danger for The Losers Club without eating up too much screen time. The stuff that is new (another Leper appearance, some schoolyard terror for Ben, etc.) is done with a real edge and a sense of fun.
Here’s where I get a little blasphemous in the realm of Stephen King worship. Are you ready? Here goes: The changes not only stay true to the spirit of abject fear and horror in the original, but are an improvement over the bloated novel.
I know, I know- how do you improve on what is (arguably) Stephen King’s masterpiece? The answer is by making it leaner, meaner, and frankly making it a little easier to understand. The prime example is The Ritual of Chüd. It’s drastically changed for the screen, making it action-packed and cinematic (you know that’s a necessity if you’ve read the book). The set for the final showdown is a monster movie gem, destined to be iconic. The beautiful part is that much of the soul, if you will, of the source is there: Spider-It is still a spider, but this one is bound to haunt your fucking nightmares much more than that ridiculously dated 1990 SFX hack job from the miniseries. The power of belief as the ultimate weapon is still the most important part of the fight. Their bond is their greatest asset.
It’s not only the greatest asset in that fight but in both films. Childhood friendships have a power that no adult friendship can match. There’s a magic that we can all remember, and it speaks to the heart and soul. That’s a running theme through much of King’s work, and director Andy Muschietti is clearly on the same wavelength. I genuinely had to dry my eyes a good handful of times during the world’s fastest 2 hours and 49 minutes but especially at that ending, an ending that validated the character of Stan “The Man” Uris in a way that made my heart literally soar. I wasn’t the only wet eye in the theater by any stretch (I peeked around the full house). I appreciated the close of the story deeply and personally.
Yeah, all the monsters are great. Pennywise is an iconic character. The horror is first rate and a true tribute and testament to The Master’s magnum opus. Andy Mucschietti and this criminally talented cast of kids and adults captured all that in spades, but at the end of the day the power of It in all its forms has always been the heart, the bonds of friendship, and the power of belief.
Stephen King said it best: “Maybe there aren't any such things as good friends or bad friends - maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you're hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they're always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that's what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”
I can’t find a better way to finish than with those words.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars. A goddamn masterwork. This is how you make horror epic.