In Review: 'It: Chapter 2'

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | oct. 2019

Stephen King returns to the screens with the second part of the “It” films. I rather enjoyed the first part, it hit the marks of the story fairly well, had a distinct look and style that separated it from the TV miniseries and, in spite of a few flaws, actually worked quite nicely for me. One notable aspect is that the new story deviated from the TV series by having the children's story and the adults story disentangled and it worked rather well for the first film. The children's story was always the most interesting part of the TV series so this made sense — this was where a certain concern for this second part of the tale lay. One of the things that I hadn't anticipated was that the combining of the two timelines was actually a benefit as having them separate does leave this second part feeling largely redundant, though there is enough here to make for a decent enough film. The problem is this is just under three hours of film, much of which feels like it's retreading the previous film's ground. As a result, it's long and it feels it at times.

I'm not going to get all misty-eyed about the TV version of this tale, it had its problems and plenty of them and personally, I think the movie adaptations have a lot to offer, not least a far better produced and financed telling of the story. The TV series always did look a bit rough around the edges, understandable considering the far lower budget. The films have managed to forge their own style which often looks amazing though, to be honest, does lean far too heavily at times on CG to the point of looking like a nightmare version of a Pixar film. Either version has its charms, the TV series had the amazing performance by Tim Curry as a scenery-chewing Pennywise and the new films had a better cast in general but the thing with both versions is that they're based on an intriguing, but rather fumbling book. And “It: Chapter 2” knows this, they reference it on several occasions with comments about the character Bill's writing where it's made clear that he can't seem to get a good ending. Even Stephen King, in a cameo here, says it. It felt like a pre-emptive defence at the time and I can't help but think that's exactly what it was.

While I enjoyed quite a bit of “It: Chapter 2”, it certainly runs into some problems. The most pressing of problems was that it leans a little heavy on comedy at points. Many scenes that are played for laughs and it defuses the tension that the film should rely on. Like with the “Can't write an ending” jokes, it all distracts from the lingering death that should be making this an uncomfortable journey for the characters. A little humor is fine, even welcome, but the film lolls in tone from comedic to horrific so often and inappropriately that the mood changes often override each other. The original story did have that sense of bizarre dark humor to it but it was largely based around Pennywise's antics and banter, here, it's the main characters that bat out the comedy lines and it doesn't quite fit. The saturation of comedy doesn't sit well with the film's more effective moments like the opening scene of a homophobic attack or where a young girl is emotionally manipulated and persuaded by Pennywise to get within his grasping range. Those moments, and several others, are very effective, Pennywise in this movie spends less time mocking and more time manipulating his quarry, and this works rather well and I actually rather enjoy this version though the infamous space spider has taken a rather odd turn in this re-telling. Yeah, it's one of those times where the CG and design have really gone over the top to the point of being ridiculous. If there were one scene that needed to have redeemed the overall film, and indeed the whole purpose of making the films, it was probably this one. While it gets a much more interesting fight, the look of the scene is just as daft as the original TV series, only in different ways.

Has the effort of retelling the story been worth it? I'd have to lean towards a tentative yes. Though Chapter 2 is overly long and rather muddled in tone, the first chapter was rather good. Chapter 2 isn't bad enough to drag it down, it's just mildly disappointing, especially in comparison to the Chapter 1, and I do wonder how the two parts ended up having such different qualities and polish. It's just one of those things that tends to happen with Stephen King's adaptations; there's more content in the books than sits comfortably in a movie or even two. Something like “The Langoliers” worked fairly well, despite it's horrifically cheap and crappy special effects because it was fairly breezy, it did its thing and we moved on. Same for “Maximum Overdrive,” not a huge, or even great story, but fast and fun enough to be enjoyable. As much as it'd pain the author of so many classic stories, I'd rather have seen the story tied up at the end of the first part, it's the kids part that has always been given the most praise and the adults part that has always been met with shrugs. I enjoyed the performance by the adult cast, they do a fine job, but when it comes down to it, the screenplay is drawn out too far and the director can't seem to settle on what tone he wants to set.

Is it worth a watch? Well, if you liked the first part then I guess you've got to see this one to finish the story but don't feel bad if you miss out and have to wait for the home release. If you didn't like the first one that much then I'd say this will not win you over. It doesn't sully the first part but it is just a bit disappointing.

He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

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