By Andrew Jenck
Expectations were not high for It, as most Stephen King adaptions, at that point, were generally not well received, and Pennywise’s new design seemed to be a turnoff. Proving the naysayers wrong, It, while flawed in certain areas, managed to be a sincere film with relatable characters, a good balance of horror and humor, and an excellent performance by Bill Skaskgard as the dancing clown. However, making a follow-up to It, despite only being half of the original novel, was going to be a challenge. The character arcs felt complete, we know what to expect from Pennywise, the adult part of the book is considered not as interesting, and the book’s ending was panned. Bottom line, there was a lot riding on this one with large pitfalls that filmmakers could easily fall into…and they unfortunately fall into just about every one of them.
You see, It: Chapter Two is exploitive of artificial nostalgia. The first reminded 80s kids of their childhoods, so this means we can just coast off the first to tell the story. Have flashbacks to the kids every 20 minutes in case the adult versions don’t stick. Have it nearly three hours long to make it feel more epic than it is. Rehash the same lessons learned in the first because we can’t think of a way to further develop these characters. All these decisions feel very studio-mandated; emphasis on feels because I don’t know how the process went. To be fair, director Andy Muschietti and his crew have made some poor decisions themselves. It’s generally well shot and acted, but the film goes so overboard on the jump scares with no subtlety whatsoever.
I still think the original IT was overly reliant with jump scares but there was a good amount of creepy atmosphere and the humor was well placed. Dancing Pennywise is a meme but it at least had a good balance of dread and humor. It’s sequel is the antithesis of that with humor constantly drawing out which only works when delivered by movie-stealer Bill Hader. I’m someone who always falls for jump scares even if I predict them, but half way in, even I became numb to everything. As many other critics have pointed out, for a good stretch we just see the same scene playing out with the adults visiting set pieces from the first movie, get spooked, and no progress is made. Splitting them up was also a mistake because now the kinship between them isn’t as strong. Skarsgard as Pennywise still has, well, “it,” but there are few scenes where he’s allowed to shine like before and his tactics aren’t a step above to reasonably scare the adults.
Even coming from someone who thought the first movie was good but not great, It Chapter Two is a considerable downgrade of a sequel; perhaps the most in recent memory. This can be summed up in the film’s score. The music was unique for a horror film as this, but here it just sounds like any other horror theme because there’s nothing else for the composer to work with. I enjoyed this one enough while watching it, but the more it sits with me, the less favorable I am towards it. It is ironic how self-aware the film is of a common criticism of Stephen King, where despite interesting setups, his books could never land the ending, only for this franchise to do the same thing.