In 1990, ABC Television cast Tim Curry in a made-for-TV adaptation of one of Stephen King’s scariest and longest novels: It. While Tim Curry delivered a knock-out performance as the monstrous Pennywise, the movie itself is anemic. When one removes the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and rewatches the movie today, one can see how this was not a good idea. Many elements from the book were either muted or cut-out completely to make the production fit for network broadcast standards. Throw in a low budget and the original film of It has aged just about as well as jokes about Polish people.
Then came 2017’s adaptation of the first half of It on the big screen. Director Andres Muschietti took the story of Pennywise The Dancing Clown and molded it into one of the best adaptations of Stephen King’s work to ever grace the silver screen. Muschietti made the smart move of dividing the epic tale into two separate films. It was seen as a gamble, especially in the eyes of Warner Brothers, but it was a gamble that worked as It – Chapter 1 went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of 2017. Fans were feverish for the second half of the story and now it has finally arrived.
Was it worth the wait? On the whole, yes. While I enjoyed the film, it is sadly not as strong as Chapter 1.
The Loser Club is forced to reunite 27 years after the events of the first film to confront Pennywise once again, when he reemerges to feed. And feed he does. The film does not flinch in its depiction of the scenes of child eating from the novel, so anyone who has issues with this element of the story – be warned. While the death scenes are not as drawn out as Georgie’s tragic death in Chapter 1, they are still jarring and intense.
The scenes where The Losers reunite with Pennywise (which come as flashbacks to other moments of their lives that they have forgotten since leaving Derry, Maine) are equally intense. However, that intensity comes with mixed results. Some scenes come off as overly comical due to the CGI utilized. Despite this, the film still delivers more good scares than unintentional laughs.
The performances from the adult Losers are all well-delivered. Jessica Chastain turns in an amazingly strong yet vulnerable performance as the grown-up Bev. Allowing history to repeat itself by living with an abusive husband, she shows us how Bev still has demons to battle. James McEvoy is as versatile as one might expect as adult Bill. Still not over Georgie’s death, he has emerged as a successful author (with some clever inside jokes aimed towards Stephen King himself) who must learn to move on from his grief. Those who complained about Mike not getting enough to do in the first film with be happy to know that he has plenty to do this time around and Isaiah Mustafa (The Old Spice Guy himself) does a great job as the man who became ‘The Keeper of The Promise.”
However, if there is one performance that stands out the most, it is Bill Hader as an adult Ritchie. Known for his hilarious turn on Saturday Night Live, the man has emerged as an amazing actor with the HBO series Barry and his performance as Ritchie only furthers establishes his acting chops. However, if there is one thing that is a letdown regarding the character of Ritchie, it is how his “secret” (SPOILER: he’s gay) is dealt with. In the 80’s it was still taboo to be openly gay, especially as a child in a small town like Derry, Maine. Despite this film being set in 2017, the notion of him being secretly gay is handled the same way it would have been in the 80’s. This was a tad off putting, but I can see why they did it the way they did, because many celebrities today are still secretly hiding their homosexuality thinking it is shameful and might end their careers. Alas, if this was the angle they were going with Ritchie’s secret, it was not conveyed well.
Speaking of which, being openly gay myself, I cannot discuss this film without mentioning the elephant in the room: the gay bashing scene. One of the most violent and brutal moments in the original book was the death of Adrian Mellon. Based on an actual gay bashing in King’s hometown of Bangor, Maine that resulted in death, the scene was hard to read. In the 1990 TV adaptation, this moment (along with Ritchie’s homosexuality) was pretty much ignored because it was 1990, and gay still equaled dirty or AIDS in the eyes of Hollywood. So, Muschietti decided, along with Stephen King, to include the sequence now. One may wonder why.
As a victim of a gay bashing in 2006 (in San Francisco out of all places) I applaud the bravery to depict the ugliness that is gay bashing this roughly today. Bangor, Maine was known as a very homophobic city at one point, and ignoring the history is just as ugly as the history itself. Yet the scene is problematic because the hatred behind the act becomes the catalyst that reawakens Pennywise, who lives on fear. In this case, the fear of gay people.
Yes, one can say that in 2017 we have come further than 1989 (or, in the case of the book, the 1950’s) but the year makes no difference. Gay bashing was not excusable then or now, and yet it still exists. This scene not only launches the story in an ugly but important way, but it unapologetically puts a human face to the act to further drive home the real-world horrors of hate crimes.
At 2 hours and 45 mins, It – Chapter 2 is an endurance test. Could this story have been split into three films like The Hobbit? With the book being 1110 pages, I think so. The length of the novel gets in the way of the ambition of this filmmakers. Still, I was not disappointed by this outing, and was glad to see many elements from the book finally get filmed. Though I feel It – Chapter 1 is the stronger film, I still recommend returning to Derry for the final showdown.