Monday, September 9, 2019

Movie Review: It Chapter Two

It Chapter Two *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Andy Muschietti.
Written by: Gary Dauberman and Jason Fuchs based on the novel by Stephen King.
Starring: Jessica Chastain (Beverly Marsh), James McAvoy (Bill Denbrough), Bill Hader (Richie Tozier), Isaiah Mustafa (Mike Hanlon), Jay Ryan (Ben Hanscom), James Ransone (Eddie Kaspbrak), Andy Bean (Stanley Uris), Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise), Jaeden Martell (Young Bill), Wyatt Oleff (Young Stanley), Jack Dylan Grazer (Young Eddie), Finn Wolfhard (Young Richie), Sophia Lillis (Young Beverly), Chosen Jacobs (Young Mike), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Young Ben), Teach Grant (Henry Bowers), Nicholas Hamilton (Young Henry), Xavier Dolan (Adrian Mellon), Taylor Frey (Don Hagarty), Molly Atkinson (Myra/Sonia Kaspbrak), Joan Gregson (Mrs. Kersh), Stephen Bogaert (Alvin Marsh), Luke Roessler (Dean), Stephen King (Shopkeeper), Peter Bogdanovich (Director), Will Beinbrink (Tom), Jess Weixler (Audra Phillips), Martha Girvin (Patty), Ryan Kiera Armstrong (Victoria).
I suspect I may be more forgiving for some of the problems in It: Chapter Two than others will be in large part because I think bringing Stephen King’s mammoth 1,100 book to the screen is such a large task that even when you have two movies, and nearly five hours, it’s still not enough time. If we’re ever going to get a truly definitive version of King’s It on screen, I suspect it will be in the form a TV miniseries that runs at least 10 hours. A lot of the issues were easier to paper over in the first film – when it’s just a story about children fighting off an evil presence, it is easier to tell that story in a way that makes sense, and makes for a satisfying movie. When the canvas expands, as it does in Chapter Two, to try and shoehorn everything that King was doing in the novel, the results become far messier. It gives the film a more episodic feel, and while it’s perhaps easy to pinpoint a few moments and scenes that could be cut to make a shorter, tighter film – I understand that the filmmakers were trying to capture everything King did, so I cut them a little slack.
The most understandable choice the filmmakers made – and this started with the last movie – is also the one that I think makes it impossible for the movies to have the same power as the novel – and that is the choice to basically straighten out the timeline, and tell the story of the Losers Club as kids in the first film, and the one with them as adults in the second. The book, of course, flash back and forth in time – so that as the adult Losers, now back in Derry, start to remember what happened to them as children, we find out what happened to them there as well – and then see corresponding events with them as adults. This makes the themes of childhood trauma, and its effects into adulthood, more palpable – and fully realized. The filmmakers try this a little in Chapter II – either giving us events we saw in the first film, or new ones from the childhood – but without it being the structure of the whole enterprise, that effect is just lost. Again, I’m not sure how they could do this in two movies, totaling five hours – so the decision is understandable – and still, it does mean that instead of it being a story of childhood trauma and its effects, it more a story of this group fighting an evil, child killing clown.
The filmmakers probably would have been better served had they realized it – and embraced it. The scenes that tend to drag a little in Chapter Two – are the ones where we get away from the Losers Club altogether. In the book, the murder of Adrian Mellon (here played by Xavier Dolan) is one of many instances that show the rot in Derry runs deep – even beyond Pennywise. Here, as the only example of it, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth as an extended sequence of gay bashing – once again, using gay pain to explain something awful in society. There’s also a couple of scenes in Chapter It showing Pennywise up to his old tricks of murdering children. Like the Adrian Mellon sequence, by itself, the sequences are well done (it is legitimately scary to see Pennywise emerge from the shadows under the bleachers) – but all the sequences seem to promise that the movie is going to be a wider reaching story than it actually delivers.
For the most part though, the parts of the movie that do focus on the adult Losers do work quite well – in part, because the roles are so well cast. No one is better than Bill Hader as the adult rich – a smart mouth as a kid, now a stand-up comedian, Hader brings some genuine laughs to the movie (the biggest one being when he dances like Pennywise) – but he also has the most emotional heavy lifting of any of the adults, and is more than up for it. I wish the film had a little bit more for Jessica Chastain as the adult Beverly to do – but she still plays the role as well as it can be played – putting on a brave face, even as her whole life is crumbling.
The middle act of the film does undeniably drag at some points. This is probably because the narrative demands means that the Losers have to be separated – they all need to find something to “sacrifice” to Pennywise, which means that they have to split up – and when they do, the film loses that connection between them all that is really the heart of the narrative to begin with. Several of these stand-alone sequences are stand-outs – none more than the Jessica Chastain one, that basically acted as the trailer for the film – but it certainly does drag more than a little.
And then it all comes together in the end. You can argue that the last sequence goes on too long – it does – yet it still works. The movie certainly does have too many jump scares, perhaps a little too much CGI Pennywise – but his every appearance also gives us a chance to see Bill Skarsgård go dementedly over-the-top in what is essentially a high wire act to determine if he can go too far (mileage may vary here, but for my money, no he can’t).
Perhaps I am too close to the book – King is one my favorite writers, and for my money, It is his masterpiece. The novel brings together everything that King does so well, and unlike some of his (and apparently Bill’s) novel, he doesn’t let you down in the end (yes, the child orgy was a mistake – but it’s only one). And in a way, what doesn’t what about It Chapter Two is the fact that the films ambitions – it wants to be more than the Losers fighting the demonic clown. But even with two movies, and five hours, there isn’t enough time to do what King did in the book – and if there was, the filmmakers don’t find it. I admire the attempt – and I will say that despite the fact that the film runs nearly three hours, I was never bored, I was involved the whole time, and entertained throughout. The film works – unlike so many attempts to translate King to the screen. It’s not a masterpiece like the book was – and Chapter Two isn’t nearly as good as the original movie was either. But it’s still very good.

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