Review: ‘IT Chapter 2’ Lives Firmly in the Shadow of Its Predecessor
Two years ago when I wrote my Top Ten List of 2017, I said, “We’ll never know what Cary Fukunaga’s IT would of been like ... or how much of his script remains in the final version, but it’s safe to say I’m okay with the outcome.” Well I was an idiot. In the wake of seeing IT Chapter 2, it has become abundantly clear the his influence on the 2017 film was felt more than initially thought.
While there was never any guarantees about the quality of the sequel — as there rarely ever is— there was hope. Hope that director Andy Muschietti could commandeer the ship one more time and show his contribution to this two film story. But consider those hopes dashed. IT Chapter 2 is many things but a good film it is not, giving birth to a litany of issues structurally and technically while also dropping the sinister underpinnings that Fukunaga clearly gave to the original. In short, an overreaching mess that’s one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
Twenty seven years after their first encounter with IT, The Losers Club returns to their hometown of Derry, Maine when townzins start to go missing again. Suspecting the shapeshifting celestial being that tormented them in their youth is back, Bev, Bill, Ben, Eddie, Richie, and Mike return to fulfill their blood oath they made to each other and stop the being once and for all.
Off the bat, you know this film is going to be an editing hell-scape. If the three-scene opening epilogue whiplash wasn’t enough to tip you off, the balancing act between the young and old Losers Club will. Unwilling to let go of the film-stealing cast of the original, IT Chapter 2 uses flashbacks as a way of bringing everyone back into the fold. The problem is that they should have just been omitted altogether. Flashbacks retcon segments of the original film and suggest there were more encounters with Pennywise the Clown than initially let on, and those moments in the past end up disrupting the present. Issues facing the Losers Club in their adulthood become segmented by all the interruptions and time is allocated to scenes that really should have been cut.
The 50–50 approach is an issue primarily because of how much it detracts from the adult Losers. We already had our time with the kids, let it be. We should naturally transition out of that phase and focus on the adults, only bringing in their younger versions intermittently. The rationale for this creative decision stems from the film’s theme of overcoming trauma. As we know, the Losers had a rough past that now lingers over them. Coming back to Derry and confronting the memories they repressed is what the film is concerned with, and to do that, they toss in a ton of flashbacks to contrast the past and present. Given the dual focus plus the fact that there are six characters to share time with, no one gets their just desserts. It’s all over the place and undeveloped to the point where you wish they would just allocate more time to the adult Losers and explore their issues, their trauma, and their interrelationships.
Fukunaga’s influence on the original becomes more apparent with each passing minute of IT Chapter 2. As each scene passes, you hope and pray the film can find its footing and recapture the essence of the original, but after a while, you realize it won’t. The underlying sinister darkness that permeated the original is all but gone. What Fukunaga brought to the table was an acute awareness of the domestic horrors found in old-town America. The history of a place and the haunting presence it has on those living there runs in the background as foregrounded themes of overcoming one’s fears took center stage. This film, in all its failed attempts, only marginally touches such complex notions.
The proposition that traumatic experiences are not to be forgotten, but rather remembered to help us move forward has so much potential, but the engineering of it all is just so frustratingly bad. Whether it be an ill-timed joke — of which there are many— or a complete disinterest to properly address the damage going on with the characters, it’s a massive execution problem that the first film didn’t have. You come to realize how crucial the remnants of Fukunaga’s original treatment were to the film despite unceremoniously departing the project.
And while we’re here, we might as well bring in the adult Losers cause we have some heavy hitter actors filling in the roles. Jessica Chastain plays curious Bev, James McAvoy as guilt-ridden Bill, Bill Hader as loud mouth Richie, Jay Ryan as glow-up Ben, Isaiah Mustafa as the unifying Mike, and James Ransone as the paranoid Eddie. I mentioned it before, but no one really gets their full development, even at a colossal 2 hours 45 minute runtime. Chastain is woefully underutilized which is a surprise given the love triangle of jealously between Bev, Ben, and Bill formulated in the original film. McAvoy gets short changed given how much of a predominant role he had with Georgie. Of all the members, Hader is the only one who gets amble screen time due in part to the interjecting nature of his character. The narrative structure means all the characters have one scene to shine and then thereafter meld into the singular, ill-define identity of the Losers.
With all the laundry out on the line, there are some components that deserve some credit. The inherent nature of IT is fun to play with. While the visual horror isn’t as potent as it was in the first film, the shapeshifting abilities prevent the writers from being tied to one set of rules for Pennywise, letting them create more varied scenarios for maximum scares. Bill Skargaard’s performance is as impressive as ever considering how woefully different it is from something like his part in Villains earlier this year. And some individual scenes are executed with the same care and consideration as the original.
The problem is that getting to enjoy these elements are all dampened by the overall product of the film. I cannot stress how disappointing this film is. From its abhorrent structure to its inconsiderate and underdeveloped commentary on trauma, IT Chapter 2 really could have been a lot better than what we got, and it lives firmly in the shadow of its predecessor. Cary Fukunaga, where are you? IT needs you.