Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review: "It: Chapter 2" aims high and eager to please, but doesn't compare to the first

It: Chapter Two Review


I've been a fan of Stephen King all of my life. Easily, he's my favorite author. I read several of his stories, both novel and short stories, and I've seen plenty of the adaptations of his work (and there are plenty of those). I am 30 years old now, and after soaking up so much King in my life, I have come to a conclusion. I believe his books are unfilmable.

Its really hard to get into what works and what doesn't work in this last chapter of "It," which started in 2017, without diving into spoilers. "It" the book is roughly 1100+ pages, if I remember correctly. So that tells you right there that you have to be able to put in the time to really get this story right. Even with two movies, it feels like director Andy Muschietti is galloping through each movie in order to put so much for the book to the screen. I really enjoyed the first movie, and what Muschietti has created here with his second movie is a valiant effort. It's easily the most ambitious mainstream blockbuster you'll likely see all year, and yes, that includes "Avengers: Endgame." There are images here that I never expected I'd ever see. At the same time, after growing up with the 1990 mini-series and watching this new adaptation, I believe we haven't seen the best version of this story onscreen.

As the film opens, we see the Losers Club after the end of the first film, they make their blood oath to come back to Derry, Maine if the Pennywise The Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) isn't dead. The kids make their blood oath. Sure, enough, Pennywise rears his ugly head again. The second half takes place 27 years later. The Losers Club have all grown up, reach different levels of success, and have forgotten what happened to them as kids. Except Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) who became a librarian in Derry. He's been keeping tabs on the crimes of the city, to make sure nothing seems suspicious. When Pennywise is literally calling them out, he calls his friends.

James McAvoy plays Bill, Bill Hader plays Richie, Jessica Chastain plays Beverly, James Ransone plays Eddie, Jay Ryan plays Ben and Andy Bean plays Stanley. Although Bean doesn't get too much screen time. As Stanley remembers his childhood, he's too traumatized and he takes his own life. The cast is great across the board, and they really dive into the material here. Looking at each actor, they look very much like their kid counterpart, to the point that it freaked me out a bit.

I'm gonna try not to play the whole "well in the book they did this" through this review. If you grew up on the 1990 mini-series and that's your sole exposure to "It," just understand that the book is much weirder compared to the mini-series. Its a typical King book. King is the type of writer where something psychologically disturbing one chapter, then a gruesome death the next chapter, then maybe some random object comes to life and tries to eat people the chapter after that. "It" throws everything King has ever represented in one book. What Muschietti chooses to keep in the movie and what he doesn't represents what works from the movie and what doesn't

One thing that strikes me is how bad the special effects work is, it shocked me. Warner Brothers is a studio that gave us "The Matrix" movies, various DC movies and the "Harry Potter" movies. Personally, I would have wanted more practical effects, or just better special effects. In the first trailer for "Chapter 2," we see the infamous scene from the book where Beverly visits her old home in Derry and has a horrifying encounter with Pennywise. The trailer sets the scene up perfectly, but in the movie, the scene falls flat due to some bad special effects.

Also, after I read the book, watched the 1990 mini-series and now this movie, I must confess, ending this story with a big fight with a giant spider is lame. I know Stephen King was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkein and "Lord of the Rings," but just because Shelob works in "Return of the King" doesn't mean six adults fighting a giant spider works in this story. Its an odd climax after so much build-up, and that rings loud and clear in this movie. It doesn't help that the design is half clown, half spider. It's odd and it certainly didn't make me feel much dread. Which is another problem with this two-parter overall. They've made Pennywise as a Freddy Kruger like character where...he's barely ever scary. In the book, Pennywise is horrifying pretty much all the way through. In this movie, there are a couple of times that he's a little too goofy and it just doesn't work.

That's not to say that this movie doesn't have some scary parts. Because King writes such strong characters, we identify with them fast. King's stories tend to walk that fine line between funny and serious, and this movie is a little too funny at times. There are just too many wisecracks between the adults in this movie, even at times where we are supposed to be feeling dread. There are also some superficial characterizations added in just for no reason at all, and never explored in any meaningful way.

SO what does work? Well, the actors are all at the top of their games here. Skarsgard is working overtime and while he's never really scary, he's fun to watch. The random reference to "The Thing" made me laugh out loud. The movie does produce some fun scenes here and there. I think fans of the book will also just be amazed by what Muschietti through at the audience. The movie gets wickedly wild in places and I loved that he really shot for the stars. 

The stuff that works here works so well that I think there's enough here to consider it a win. But again, I don't think we've seen the scariest version of this story on screen yet, but boy does Muschietti surely tries. I don't want this to sound bad, because it probably will. But Cary Fukunaga wrote a great script for "IT" in 2014, and while he got a writing co-credit on the first film and plenty of material from his script made into the first film. It wasn't his film, WB ended up passing on it. I really wish we got his movie. I really wish we got what his vision overall. Still, this will be remembered as a valiant effort, because it is.


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