Cinema Dispatch: IT Chapter 2

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IT Chapter 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Alright, so we’re all in agreement that the first film was amazing, right?  I mean it had a few issues here and there, but dang it if Chapter One wasn’t a horror masterpiece with great performances, a terrifying villain, and the brilliant idea of taking the GOOD parts of a Stephen King book and leaving out all the stuff that doesn’t work.  Heck, I’m pretty sure the last time that happened was when Kubrick made The Shining which Stephen King really doesn’t like for some reason.  Now we’ve got the sequel which has the neigh impossible task of capturing lightening in a bottle twice; especially since most of what made the first one so memorable will necessarily have to be either absent or pushed to the side.  Can the filmmakers pull off the impossible by making the notoriously unworkable ending to the book into something not just comprehensible but just as good as the film that came before it?  Let’s find out!!

The movie picks up twenty seven years after the events of the first film where the mysterious murders in Derry have started up once again and Michael (Isaiah Mustafa) as the only member of the Losers Club left in town has to bring the gang back together to fight the evil Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) once again.  Bill, Richie, Beverly, Ben, Eddie, and Stanley (James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean) have all gone their separate ways and can’t even seem to remember their time in Derry or the monster they fought all those years ago, but after a phone call from Mike they all start to remember (some take the news harder than others) and travel back home to take care of what IT is once and for all.  In the process they will have to confront their pasts, face their fears, and do all sorts of weird stuff in the vein attempt of trying to destroy a monster that has lived for hundreds of years while they’re a bunch of middle aged writers, comedians, and risk analysists, who might be able to throw a punch but not much else.  Can the monster known alternatively as IT, Pennywise, and WHAT THE HECK IS THAT THING!? be defeated by these friends brought together once again by the pact they made long ago?  What is the clown planning for them as revenge for the defeat that he suffered back in the eighties?  Maybe he can defeat them by trying to explain the ending of the book and just wait until their brains explode.

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“I WANT A FIVE HUNDRED WORD ESSAY ABOUT THE ENDING ON MY DESK TOMORROW MORNING!!”

Is the movie better than Chapter One?  No.  Is it a good movie anyway?  YES!  The problem that I had with splitting the movies up like this is that they ended up front loading all the stuff people remembered and enjoyed about the book into the first chapter which left all the awkward Stephen King lore and mechanical stuff to fill in the second one.  The filmmakers at least seem to have acknowledged this (quite literally at some points) and made a game effort to try and elevate the material that they had to work with which, as far as I’m concerned, they managed to succeed at more often than not.  I really did enjoy my time here even if I can acknowledge where it falters and some of the bizarre choices it made to try and sell some of the more… interesting aspects of the original book.  It’s kind of a uniquely situated film in that the first film didn’t really need a sequel the way they ended up making it, so this feels both connected and yet wholly separate from it, almost like it’s one of those years later sequels but is being made right after the first one; like if Blade Runner 2049 came out in 1985 or if Doctor Sleep was written right after The Shining.  Actually I kind of wish he did so that Kubrick could make that as well.  Stephen King would no doubt hate it, but he also thought Dreamcatcher was a good idea.

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“And then the alien explodes into a red mist and takes over the dude’s body!”     “Are you serious!?”     “Yeah, and in the movie he talks with an outrageous British accent!”

What works about this movie is basically everything that the filmmakers bring to the material; i.e. the direction, acting, and the ways they expand on the grownup section of the book.  Now I’ve still got my grandfather’s old copy of IT around here from when I tried reading it in middle school, torn to shreds and I think the cover fell off as well, but despite my attempt then and a later attempt in college to listen to the audio book, I never really got past the halfway point and only know about the adult adventures through cultural osmosis and brief snippets of the mini-series; particularly the way they interpreted the ending.  From my understanding they basically meet up at the Chinese restaurant, fight with the bully, and then grab a bunch of makeshift weapons to take into the sewer to fight IT once and for all.  All that does indeed happen in the book, but between the restaurant and fighting the monster there was a subplot where each one of them has to go to places they have strong memories of around town, and in the process have a flashback to their childhoods as well as a scary set piece with Pennywise.  So as it turns out all the kid stuff was NOT all shoved into the first movie (even though they did move a lot of stuff around) and this film takes full advantage of what’s left in the latter half with its copious flashbacks to the child actors and the accompanying set pieces which take up a majority of the run time.  It’s still something I think works better in a single book rather than split into two movies as I don’t think we learn anything all that new here about them as kids (again going back to that feeling we’re watching a years later sequel that’s reverent and nostalgic to the original) but they are still really good actors and the set pieces continue to impress the same way they did in the first one.

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“I GET IT!! YOU’RE A CLOWN!!”

The new actors are great for the roles they have to fill in and carry across a lot of the characteristics of their younger counterparts.  The only ones who feel a little bit off are Jay Ryan as Ben which makes since because his character was SUPPOSED to drastically change, and James McAvoy as Bill who doesn’t really look or sound like Jareden Martell, but the guy is such a great actor that the slight disconnect there didn’t bother me in the least.  Bill Hader as Richie and James Ransone as Eddie though are wonderful standouts here with James Ransone in particular becoming more or less the heart and soul of this movie just through his nervous yet extremely charming performance.  Speaking of which, the movie’s got a great sense of humor to it which is carried over from the first one, but where that was in the mold of a coming of age story being intercut with a horror movie, this has a much darker sense of humor that’s tied into the horror itself as well as the fact that they’re all much older and much more cynical.  Bill Skarsgård on the other hand as Pennywise is left more or less unchanged which is good because it helps get across the almost timeless nature of this creature, but the movie does have a tendency to repeat itself a bit with his antics.  They obviously tried to do the Georgie Death again here which is no doubt VERY effective but feels a bit samey, and there’s a gag from the first film that works well enough the second time around but is absolutely run into the ground by the end.  Still, he’s so good at playing this horrific creature in the vague shape of a creepy clown that even if he’s not really changing up the game it’s still more effective than almost any other horror villain that’s come up in the last few years.  I mean we let Robert Englund get away with Freddy Krueger for eight movies; we can AT LEAST give this guy two!

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As long as we don’t get Pennywise IN SPACE, I think we’ll be fine.

It’s such a well-balanced tone between humor, nostalgia, grief, and outright terror that you hardly even notice any of the small issues the film has, but we should go over them as well even if they’re only minor nitpicks.  Something that carried over from the last film that only just noticed after rewatching it is that there are awkwardly staged shots where characters have to very obvious mill about or just straight up repeat their actions for uncomfortably long times while the character in the forefront is staring meaningfully or walking slowly towards something.  In the first movie there was  bit where Bill was banging on a door yelling EDDIE over and over again while Richie slowly approached the clown room, and stuff like that happens a few times in here.  They incorporate the Ritual of Chüd which was completely absent from the first film, and the way they try to reconfigure it is just silly to the point that I’d kind of preferred they not even bother.  Also, I was never a fan of what they did with Stanley when he was an adult.  I do like what they do with it once they get to Derry though (I couldn’t tell you if it comes off the same way in the book), but then they play their hand a little too hard at the VERY end which kind of ruins it all over again, but I might be in the minority on that and for all I know I may not have QUITE grasped what they were trying to get across.  Oh, and just gonna throw this out there; it’s got a lot of flashing lights throughout.  I’m not qualified to say if they’ll be a problem for those with photo-sensitivity, but for me they were a bit annoying.

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It’s at least not as bad as The Last Witch Hunter.  If it was THAT bad, I would look like this right now.

Finally, we do have to talk about the ending which means we’re about to get into spoilers so jump ship now if you don’t want to know what happens.

We Good?  Alright, so the one thing that everyone seems to agree upon about the book is that the ending is pretty lousy, which after reading exactly what happens I am inclined to concur.  The thing about Stephen King (at least from what I’ve read of his work) is that he’s REALLY good at getting across universal ideas at a micro level and mining them for personal horror and emotions, but trying to bring it a macro level is where they work as mechanics in a world is where things start to fall apart.  Under the Dome basically goes with the universal experience of capturing a bug in a glass and putting yourself in their position, but then trying to justify that as some sort of alien or cosmic mechanic is where things got really weird at the end there.  I’m re-reading Dreamcatcher (okay fine, LISTENING to it) and the idea of four friends who had their moment of true greatness pass them by years ago is interesting as is the idea of an alien invasion coming to us by way of a devastating illness are really interesting for the first half of that book, but the rest of the stuff about the alien invasion, the psychic connections, the convoluted plot by one alien to infect the world but can only be stopped by a mentally challenged kid who I think is ALSO an alien… yeah it just kind of falls to pieces once it goes from what are these four guys all about to what are is going on in this world.  Now IT has the same problem in that King touched upon something fantastic with the idea of small town ghost stories and scary places around town (the old haunted house on whatever street where I TOTALLY heard someone was murdered) being the backdrop for an ACTUAL monster that has terrorized a town for generations.  Once he got around explaining what IT is though, well there we get into cosmic turtles and biting telekinetic tongues and… yeah, maybe it all makes more sense in the book, but trying to read up on it was both utterly baffling but honestly not far off from what I expected.  So we’ve got a great coming of age story with a group of kids set behind a tale of childhood fears, rumors, and insecurities, but is then concluded on a total barrel of nonsense.  How does the movie handle this?  Well first, they hang as many lampshades as possible throughout the movie to prime you for the ending.  I won’t spoil EVERYTHING they do because some of it is pretty fun to see play out, but the movie lets YOU know that THEY know where this is all headed.  More importantly though, they don’t try to fill in TOO Many blanks here as there’s no mention of a space turtle (seriously, WHAT!?) and it all comes back to more or less what the first film was about; namely conquering your fears.  It’s all very dreamlike rather than cosmic which is the better approach in my opinion, and yes there are some utterly ridiculous moments in here because you can’t just toss EVERYTHING out, it’s probably about as good as someone’s gonna get for trying to rework this particular ending.

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“I say we beat it with the power of love.”     “Well I say we beat it with the power of ROCK!!”     “How about a gun?  Did anyone think to bring a gun?”

I don’t think it particularly stands on its own as a film the same way the first one did, but if you liked that first one then I think you’ll enjoy this one as well.  I couldn’t possibly see someone trying to jump on this film without having seen the first one, but then again EVERYONE saw the first one if the box office receipts are any indication, so it’s almost like reviewing a Twilight film or a Harry Potter sequel; does it do good by the source material and will the fans enjoy it.  I certainly had a great time watching this even if it’s not quite up there with the first one, so I’d definitely recommend seeing it in theaters if you have the chance.  Seriously, just watching how they tried to figure out the ending was worth the ticket price alone, and frankly it’s one of the better horror movies I’ve seen this year even with the drop off in quality.  Let’s just hope that WB leaves it here and doesn’t try to do another Dark Tower with Pennywise as the bad guy just to try and keep the money rolling in.  Oh who am I kidding?  I would pay SO much money to see that train wreck!

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