2/10 I can’t believe they got James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain to show up for this.
Derry, Maine, 2016- You saw It, and for some reason, loved it. Now it’s 27 years later, and Pennywise, the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) has crawled out of the sewer to feed once more. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa and Chosen Jacobs), calls the rest of the Losers’ Club back home to fulfill their oaths and destroy the beast.
Having spent their lives outside Pennywise’s area of influence, most of Hanlon’s old friends have forgotten their childhoods, a common phenomenon among Derry natives. Hanlon, who never left Maine, has spoken to the nearby American Indians, whose tribe defeated Pennywise in ancient times, to learn how to seal him away, but the ritual of truth will require each of the losers to rediscover their pasts and reopen old wounds – all while being stalked by It.
It: Chapter Two is frankly kind of amazing. It’s just as catastrophically bad as the first movie, but in almost completely different ways.
This might be the first movie I’ve ever seen that is simultaneously too long and too short. Obviously, it’s too long in an objective sense at 169 minutes, but the film’s choices about where to commit that time are completely wrong. The first act is weirdly rushed, the third act feels eternal and the second act somehow alternates between being both — the film’s middle breaks up into vignettes that are both too short to be satisfying as isolated sequences and too long to flow as a single film. It’s a parade of unremarkable scenes that feels like it has neither a clear beginning nor ending and only makes sense in hindsight.
The goal seems to have been to wrap up every extraneous thread with each character, and holy crap I do not care. I absolutely do not care about these stupid little people and their stupid little love triangles and insecurities. I’m not interested in revisiting the childhoods or going through the relationship drama of characters who were already uninteresting.
Characters become interesting when they make interesting choices. Throughout the entirety of both movies, most of the decisions the protagonists make are basic fight-or-flight choices, and even then, they often just freeze while Pennywise does his haunted house thing. Banter about the “very scary,” “scary” and “not scary at all” doors does not an insightful character moment make.
The plotline that really lifts out is with Henry Bowers (Teach Grant and Nicholas Hamilton) escaping the mental hospital and attacking the group, a side-track that has no emotional consequences and should clearly have been cut, but the biggest problem is the way the second act ends. There’s a plotline between Bill Denbrough (McAvoy and Jaeden Martell) and Dean (Luke Roessler), a small child Pennywise goes after, leading to a conflict that sends Denbrough flying toward the sewers in a rage to kill Pennywise himself. Denbrough’s strong and emotionally direct act transition leaves his companions’ second-act storylines feeling like wasted time in comparison.
It: Chapter Two has been described as an epic horror film because it’s three hours long, and that merits a discussion about what an “epic film” is – because there isn’t a solid definition. The term arose in the middle of the 20th century to describe longer, larger-budget features like Gone With the Wind and Ben Hurr, and it’s changed pretty drastically over time.
Personally, I would define an epic film by scope and setting – high stakes, exotic backgrounds, elaborate and immersive set and costume design as well as momentous tasks are probably the main hallmarks. The Lord of the Rings series is obviously the be-all end-all codifier of a film that can be described as “epic,” and that movie created its sense of scope primarily with the agonizing distance its protagonists have to travel and the titanic obstacles they face along the way, but this sense of scope can also be created by the amount of time that passes in a story. Crime sagas like The Godfather and The Departed clearly take place over the course of several years each, but with their timelines never specified, each feel bigger and more drawn out than they otherwise would be.
What isn’t a good identifier of an epic film is runtime – although everything I’m mentioning is close to three hours, much shorter movies like Star Wars, Sin City or even something like Layer Cake would also fit. There are also plenty of examples of extremely long movies the description wouldn’t fit at all like There Will be Blood or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from earlier this year.
An exorbitant runtime seems to be It’s only claim to the “epic” title, but the scope is actually quite small. Early in the movie, it’s established that the rest of the protagonists will all be driven to suicide within the next several years if they don’t stop Pennywise now, a scenario that deliberately shrinks the stakes – they’re not trying to save the town or the world, just themselves. Splitting the book up into two parts takes away the sense of an enormous amount of time passing, and even in the 1990 TV adaptation that intercuts the two time periods, you don’t get that sense of enormous movement, they’re just parallel settings.
The movie certainly could have made the journey around town and into the depths of Pennywise’s lair seem epic, but it doesn’t get there. Derry doesn’t seem big enough — none of the average-looking suburban environments are connected, so you never get that sense of it being a real town — then they encounter almost no obstacles as they go into Pennywise’s cavern, and that cavern itself is a massive anti-climax as a set.
There’s an extended moment as the heroes enter this barely lit cave with nothing in it where we’ll spend the next 40 goddamn minutes and every actor is straining to be as astonished as possible while they look at this completely boring cave, and I have to stop and feel awful for this wonderful cast that is being asked to do so much with so little. At one point, Denbrough reacquires his childhood bike, and for the rest of the movie James McAvoy is riding this child-sized bike around with a completely straight face — it’s the funniest thing in the movie by far.
It: Chapter Two is no epic, and while it’s definitely a horror, it’s not scary. Some of the jumps are less predictable than others, I guess, but that’s really the best that can be said for it.
Pennywise himself is mostly absent in the main body of the film, and even in his big giant spider scene at the end, he doesn’t get to do much and the group spends much of the sequence siloed off and away from him. It seems like a bit of a ripoff as he’s the most recognizable character, he’s the only actor who’s returning for the full film and he’s such a major part of the marketing.
Pennywise spends a lot of his time shape-shifted into different forms meant to be more specifically scary to each character, as he did in the previous movie, but the creature designs are much worse. They’re all just corpses in various states of decay, and they’re all absolutely unremarkable. Extras in a lot of zombie movies look better.
After these not-scary creatures jump out at you, they’re almost always shot in that very distinct early-decade 3D style, coming directly at the camera with no depth of field and a ton of background shake for added effect. This bizarre, out-dated choice is extremely consistent – since the shot’s so distinctive, it’s very easy to notice it being repeated – and I have absolutely no idea what the thought process was here. It’s not a 3D release, and those tricks are boring and dumb even when they are in 3D.
Looking past the glaring issues with film form, It’s big problems that I keyed in on two years ago were with anti-Semitism and sexualizing Bev Marsh (Chastain and Sophia Lillis), who was played by a teenager at the time. With Marsh played by the 42-year old Chastain for most of this second film – who director Andy Muschietti doesn’t frame nearly as lustily as he did Lillis – and with Stanley Uris (Andy Bean and Wyatt Oleff), the group’s Jew, dying early in the film, those problems are gone.
In their place is that unique, ostensibly pro-pride brand of homosexism, the fetishization of gay pain for straight consumption that has historically permeated Hollywood. The film opens with the horrifying lynching of two gay Derry residents, who are themselves effeminate and weirdly dated stereotypes who insult their attackers’ hair while being beaten to death, in a scene that has no bearing on the plot at all and is noticeably weaker as an opening than another one placed half an hour later.
This scene, a detailed recreation of a violent 1984 assault that was written into the book, has absolutely no regard for the differences in impact between book and film or the history of violence against LGBT people in the medium. Like the first scenes of many horror movies, the opening of It: Chapter Two is meant to show viewers how hardcore the movie is, that no one is safe and boundary cannot be crossed, but its effect is to remind gay people that they are not safe anywhere and their status as second-class citizens is subject to repackaging by others. Its sole purpose is to appropriate real-life violence for shock value.
Bill Hader introduces himself in his first shot by vomiting directly onto the camera. He’s been getting a weird amount of Oscar buzz for his performance, and he does an OK job of recreating Finn Wolfhard’s desperate-for-attention pottymouth antics I guess, but the buzz mostly relates back to this same Hollywood homosexism. His character, Richie Tozier (Hader and Wolfhard), is recontextualized as gay, and since playing gay is still considered “brave” due to the deep homophobia pervading the filmmaking industry, he’s getting much outsized praise.
There’s also Warner Bros.’ track record of making hard Oscar pushes with its larger-scale movies to consider. This mostly started with DCEU movies as a method to legitimize them as opposed to MCU movies – and succeeded when Suicide Squad, of all the loathsome things, earned an Oscar for Best Makeup – and is a tactic Disney has mirrored, earning a Best Picture nomination for Black Panther last year while also attempting to build a back door around the Academy.
As before, I’m sure plenty of people are going to enjoy this movie, but It: Chapter Two is absolutely terrible for a variety of reasons. It’s not epic, it’s not scary, it’s not good, it reeks of that insidious, unique brand of Hollywood homosexism and it’s demanding three hours of your life. Don’t go see it.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.