erik lundegaard

Monday September 23, 2019

Movie Review: It Chapter Two (2019)


Not to spoil everyone’s fun but the homophobic bullies from the beginning of the movie get away with it. It’s a horrific scene and nothing happens to them. They’re still out there. I mean, I’m glad most of the Losers are OK, but .... the fuck?

Same with the girl beneath the bleachers. That happens and nothing. Poof. No crying mother on TV. No demands from the town council to investigate. “Kids are missing again. Why does this seem to happen every 27 years?” Silence.

I actually got pissed off at the town of Derry, Maine, in this thing. Bullies roaming free, a murderous clown showing up every 27 years, and where are they? The only one who’s doing anything is the township’s lone black guy living in its library attic. Is he conferring with law enforcement? Would you? And not just in a #BlackLivesMatter way. Sheriffs aren't exactly bright spots in Stephen King's work. Years ago, for MSN, I ranked the top 5/worst 5 Stephen King adaptations, meaning I had to watch all of them, which is pain enough for anyone, and I noticed so many incompetent sheriffs and evil trucks that it became a question for each of the ranked movies: Evil truck or incompetent sheriff? No evil trucks here, but the Derry sheriff is so incompetent he doesn’t even exist. We never see him. Kids are being killed again and where is he?

Fucking Derry. 

Well, at least it’s got a Chinese restaurant now. That’s progress. But mostly for the fortune cookie bit, I imagine.

Sans Batman, Robin, Starlord, Mysterio and Black Panther
In my review of “It” I wrote that every parent in town was worth zero: “Less than zero. There are no adults in the room. The kids have to be the adults in the room.” Now the kids are the adults in the room.

Great casting, by the way. They all look like older versions of the younger actors.

So it should’ve been Amy Adams. I mean, Sophia Lillis is a dead ringer. The press/marketing says the kids got to request who they wanted to play them, and Sophia said Jessica Chastain and Chastain said yes. First, I don’t buy the press reports. Warner Bros./New Line is going to entrust casting for their billion-dollar property to teenagers? Besides, everyone’s going to want the movie-star version of themselves and it’s not going to be sustainable. Apparently that happened. According to IMDb, here’s who the kids requested and who they got:

  • Sophia (Beverly) wanted Jessica Chastain and got ... Jessica Chastain
  • Finn Wolfhard (Richie) wanted Bill Hader and got ... Bill Hader
  • Chosen Jacobs (Mike) wanted Chadwick Boseman and got ... Isaiah Mustafa
  • Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie) wanted Jake Gyllenhaal and got ... James Ransone (Ziggy of “The Wire,” season 2)
  • Wyatt Oleff (Stanley) said Joseph Gordon-Levitt and got ... Andy Bean
  • Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben) wanted Chris Pratt and got ... Jay Ryan
  • Jaeden Martell (Bill) wanted Christian Bale and got ... James McAvoy

BTW, and assuming they had influence: Thank you, Finn Wolfhard. Hader is one of my favorite actors. I think he’s going to win an acting Oscar someday if he doesn’t give it up. He’s also perfect for a grown-up Richie. Now if only he could’ve been Jewish.

As the movie opens, it’s 2016, and most of the Losers have left Derry. The further away they got, the more the horrors of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) dimmed, until they basically forgot him. Impossible, right? Well, it’s not normal forgetting. “Something happens to you when you leave this town,” Mike tells them. “The farther away, the hazier it all gets.” He’s the only one who remembers since he’s the only one who stayed. He’s been researching the evil ever since.

Once Pennywise returns, Mike alerts them, and they all return, somewhat confused. The only one who doesn’t come back is Stanley. He’s just too scared. But he knows, somehow, they all have to be together to make it work. So, as he says in a letter near the end of the movie, he removes his piece from the gameboard. He kills himself.

I like that their first reaction to remembering and encountering Pennywise again is to get the fuck out of Dodge. But Mike convinces Bill to stay, and Bill convinces some of the others. And what has Mike learned after 27 years of research? Apparently an ancient Native American ceremony might kill the evil. Why didn’t it kill Pennywise before? The final answer is that, oops, it doesn’t really work, but that’s third-act stuff. In the meantime, each Loser has to find a personal item (on their own) for the ritual (that doesn’t work). But it leads to some good, scary scenes—particularly Beverly visiting her old apartment and encountering a kind old lady (Joan Gregson), who, we see, is Pennywise, skittering insectlike behind Beverly’s back. So creepy. Felt very “Twin Peaks.” These personal journeys also create flashbacks that allow us to see the kid versions of the Losers again.

In the meantime, the school bully from the first movie, Henry Bowers (Teach Grant), who’d been pushed to his apparent death, is actually alive and living and in a mental asylum. He’s also grown to seed. When he sees a red balloon signaling the return of Pennywise, he teams up with his now-zombie toadies to wreak revenge upon the Losers. Why is he in thrall to Pennywise who killed his friends? Who knows? Bullies will bully. He actually stabs Eddie in the cheek—the cheek the creepy pharmacist had recently pinched—then shows up at the library and is about to kill Mike when Richie splices his head open with an axe. Or something. To me, Bowers is a subplot we didn’t need. The movie’s long enough already. 

Question for people who read the novel: Did the little boy die in the Hall of Mirrors or is that another Pennywise illusion to fuck with Bill? That’s the thing: When is the horror an illusion (fortune cookies morphing into monsters, a giant Pennywise terrorizing a carnival) and when does it have real-world repercussions? At time, it almost felt like the Losers were invulnerable to Pennywise. He would fuck with their minds but leave no physical wounds. Anyone know why? Other than they’re the stars?

All of this leads us back to the abandoned Neibolt house, which was dilapidated in 1988-89, and now looks like ash, but is somehow still standing there on the corner next to nice homes with manicured lawns. (The Derry township can’t even condemn a fucking property right.) They go down the well, through the sewers, and into the creepy spot from the finale of the last film (a pile of circus props and kids toys). But that’s not enough. From there, they keep descending: down a sewer, crawling and scraping to get to a specific subterranean locale for the incantation that doesn’t work. They’ve basically arrived defenseless into Pennywise’s lair. It’s a wonder only one of them dies. Bye, Eddie. See ya, Zig. 

There’s a running gag throughout the film in which fans of Bill say they liked this or that book of his but never the ending. Apparently it’s a criticism Stephen King heard a lot. He even gets to say it here, to Bill, in a great cameo as the most unimpressed of Maine shopkeepers. And while the ending to this film isn’t great (it goes on too long), I liked the ending to Pennywise. Since he has to abide by the rules of the shape he’s in, they decide to make him small by escaping through a narrow aperture. But he doesn’t bite. Then they realize there are other ways to make someone feel small. They’ve felt it all their lives. So they taunt him and insult him until he becomes small enough that they can rip his heart from his chest and crush it.

OK, so it’s not great. I mean, Pennywise can have his feelings hurt? But at least it’s using brains rather than fists.

Sans Eddie and Stanley
Other complaints. In the novel, the kids’ portion was set in the 1950s, and the adult portion in the 1980s. In the movie, it’s 1980s and 2010s, but they didn’t always update properly. The flashbacks to 1980s Derry look very 1950s, while Bill’s childhood bike is a Schwinn? Why not a BMX like in “E.T.”? Plus when he repurchases it from Stephen King’s grousy Maine shopkeeper, what does he say as he rides it down the street? Right: “Hi-yo, Silver!” That’s a ’50s kid, watching Clayton Moore’s Lone Ranger, not an ’80s kid. Certainly not after the Klinton Spilsbury version.

“It Chapter Two” is scary enough—I watched much of it through splayed fingers—just not as scary as the first. Which makes sense. They’re adults now. The world, and clowns, are much scarier when you’re a kid. Plus we don’t see Pennywise much. Plus they keep giving us the horror in the sigh after the horror doesn’t appear. Like that’s supposed to still shock.

Here’s a question: Will the township of Derry become nicer without the evil nearby? Or is the evil we see the townspeople commit—from horrific bullying to sex abuse—unrelated to Pennywise? I assume the latter. There’s a real sense here of things we can’t escape. Our heroes all leave the horrors of Derry and wind up in similar situations. Momma’s boy Eddie winds up married to a woman just like his mom—and played by the same actress. Beverly, abused by her father, winds up abused by her husband. Even Ben, chubby and brutalized in Derry, who manages to turn himself into a trim, hugely successful architect, is creating open-spaced buildings in reaction to the claustrophobia he felt in Derry. As for Bill? He becomes Stephen King, and relives the horror all the time. With, one imagines, evil trucks and incompetent sheriffs.

At least the movie gives them all (sans Eddie and Stanley) a happy ending. Beverly winds up with Ben, who’s now gorgeous and rich. Richie had his standup, Bill his writing, and Mike finally gets to leave Derry. Good for him. And good riddance. Has there been a more worthless town in movie history?

Posted at 07:35 AM on Monday September 23, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard