You know, it’s really something when I can say that Bill Hader stole the show. What an age we live in, huh?
Promises were made in 2017 when Andy Muschietti’s outstanding It: Chapter One rolled credits. We were told we’d get older versions of the kids, called home to battle against Pennywise in one last battle to put him down for good. It worked on the audience (myself included, saw it three times) and they rallied to make that the highest domestically grossing horror film in American cinema history. I went back to Derry with these kids and it was…welp, it was something.
There’s a lot to love in some of the adult characters, like the new Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa). A lot of changes were made from the source material, and this is one that I found some enjoyment in. While the written character is rational, calm, and steadfast, the cinematic interpretation of the character is a desperate maniac. See, everyone else left town and forgot about everything due to the magic of this interdimensional creature. Mike stuck around and it’s affected him pretty profoundly. Mustafa’s performance is manic, obsessive, and unhinged in a way that I enjoy. I don’t necessarily like all of the decisions they made for the arc of his character, but I love what they’ve done on that end.
Some of the adults are, sadly, miscast. While Mustafa finds a way to feel like a real evolution of Mike Hanlon, the casting runs into some bumps in other spots. Listen, hear me on this – I love me some James McAvoy. I’ve been a fan of this guy since he popped up as Duke Leto Atreides II in Children of Dune on the Sci-Fi channel. It has been sixteen years and I still enjoy a lot of his work. That said, seeing him struggle to bury his Scottish accent as Stuttering Bill Denbrough is a struggle for me. For most of the film he hangs on, and he really does behave as though an adult version of Jaeden Martell’s portrayal of Bill, but it’s not consistent. I was afraid there’d be some distraction because of his casting and I was right. Just not for the reason I thought.
Distracting casting could have been a bit of a subtitle for this movie! While we technically have seven members of the Loser’s Club, one could argue that that the true leads of the film are Bill Denbrough, Ben Hanscom, and Beverly Marsh. There’s a sweet dynamic to them as kids, with young Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) stealing the show. As adults, I feel they’re the main issue in the cast. Jessica Chastain, a wonderful actress, doesn’t get as much to do with Beverly as I’d hoped for. Her role in this film is to be the object of desire for Ben while she makes googly eyes at Bill and forgets her abusive, rapist husband Tom Rogen (Will Beinbrink). There’s nothing wrong with her performance, but there’s plenty wrong with the writing.
And let’s have a word about adult Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan). Most of the cast, even with some writing issues and performance stumbles, has some wonderful chemistry and energy that works well. Jay Ryan feels like the odd man out. He’s delivering a fine performance, but there’s something about it that doesn’t gel with the rest of the group that makes for some awkward interactions and leaves his desire for Beverly feeling tacked on, whereas the child performances of these characters felt genuine and heartfelt. It’s a hard thing to work into a film that’s already too long, and yet I could have used another half hour to build better chemistry and structure into characters like Ben Hanscom.
Part of that comes from the length of the film. At 169 minutes it feels like a behemoth, despite some sections flying by. Muschietti was in a hurry to get these folks back to Derry and spends much of the first hour sprinting through introductions to the adult actors and their lives before those are left in the dust and we’re off to see the clown. I talk about the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie far more than I should because I find it fascinating. Verbinski’s film existed in an era where we didn’t realize, as a culture, that we could do a franchise in forms other than a trilogy. This was pre-Iron Man, pre-”let’s bring it back” cash-grabs, and they shoved two movies worth of material into a bloated, three-hour beast. It: Chapter Two is a modern example of this, unwieldy in its runtime at points and perfect pitch in others while still feeling like too much material for a single outing. This left it with pacing issues that ultimately knock the film down a bit.
Alright, I’ve been griping a bit about some casting and performance issues, as well as the pacing, but I have to tell you I enjoyed this film quite a bit. It’s easy to criticize, hard to talk about positives, but there’s a lot to enjoy here. As stated, while not every performance gels the cast has pretty solid chemistry. The famous scene in the Chinese restaurant from the novel is one of the highlights of the film, allowing these people to just catch up. A three hour movie often has a hard time justifying things like this, but I loved them slowing down and just laughing together for a few minutes. There’s an underlying tension as no one truly remembers each other, but the emotions tied to deep friendship are bubbling up to the surface. It’s a smorgasbord of jokes, discomfort, deep ties, side conversations, romantic entanglement, and relived memories. We’ve all had moments like these, old friendships sparked in conversation, and it felt real in a fun way.
And speaking of fun…yeah, Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) and Eddie Kasbrak (James Ransone) steal the show. The child versions of these two kids were amazing, and that chemistry has continued in the adult performances. Funny, endearing, charming, and depressive, I really did get a sense that these two truly would be that close in a real friendship. What Hader and Muschietti did with the character of Richie Tozier is something special and it’s the best arc in the film, only barely beating out what Ransone did with Eddie Kasbrak. It again felt real and touching, reminding us all of the people who have grown up not really sure how to come to grips with themselves. Performances like this are tricky, and these two pulled off something wonderful.
I will warn you that this isn’t all that scary of a film. It’s a horror movie, but most scares are jumps or cut with a joke that takes the wind out of it. A lot of that tone is directly from the novel, but I miss the first film’s idea that we could stop for true moments of dread and discomfort. Echoes of that come to the forefront here and there, but that’s all they are – echoes. Bill Skarsgaard is doing his thing as Pennywise and there’s not much to say about that. Two years ago he delivered a great performance and he’s doing the same thing here. Nothing is held back and it makes him genuinely terrifying but I wish the film had let that be a bit more forward.
Full of surprises, both good and bad, the movie is going to be a positive experience for a lot of Stephen King fans. They spend a lot of time teasing writer Bill Denbrough about his lack of ability to end a story properly (an accusation often leveled at King himself), but the film does an okay job serving as a finale to this duology. It serves enough scares to qualify as a horror flick, enough laughs to stand up as a comedy, and enough weird elements to impress those into cosmic stories. Problems aside, I think it’s a good time and works well with the first movie. I find it odd that Stephen King has become a blockbuster name (we’re getting what, three adaptations a year at this point?) and these films kickstarted that. Whether or not you think that’s a good thing is your own opinion, but this film is a lynchpin moment in that ongoing development and I think that’ll be worth discussing down the road.
I enjoyed It: Chapter Two despite some hangups, and I can’t wait for this rumored supercut that’s going to combine the two films!