I love the book. Stephen King’s IT is one of the most chilling and frightening books that I’ve ever read. Chapter One of the new movie was scary at points but not as much as the book and in fact, the story was missing several key elements, including exchanging some of the character’s roles and minimizing a couple of character’s parts. I still loved the performances and the design of IT. So I was looking forward to IT Chapter Two to see if it would be any different than Chapter One. Chapter Two ends up being satisfying, with more emphasis on the characters, blending the adult’s stories with their childhood memories, much like the book. It is more truthful to the book, with some creepy moments, less scary overall than Chapter One but has an ending that packs emotional weight.
IT Chapter Two begins in Derry with an attack on two gay men. This demonstrates that things in Derry haven’t changed much from 27 years before when our protagonists were dealing with bullies of their own. The attack ends with one man dumped in the river only to be taken by Pennywise. This leads Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), who remained in the town, to contact the others. When they defeated Pennywise years ago, they made a vow to come back if IT ever returned. The others don’t remember the events of the summer, but Mike’s call stirs emotions. They all heed the call in different ways but the true battle is only beginning as they soon learn they must revisit their darkest memories and defeat IT once and for all.
In many ways, Chapter Two is far closer to the original book, mirroring the TV mini-series. It begins with many of the same elements of the book, with the attack on the two men and Mike Hanlon’s role becoming far more critical. As in the book, we soon learn that Bill (James McAvoy) is a writer, Ben (Jay Ryan) has become an architect, Bev (Jessica Chastain) is repeating the cycles of her childhood, Richie (Bill Hader) has become a comedian, Eddie (James Ransone) is married in a safe job, and Stanley’s (Andy Bean) part has far-reaching consequences. None of them remember their childhoods but they begin to recall as soon as they return to Derry, only to be immediately confronted with IT. Some want to leave immediately but Mike convinces them that they’ll never be free if they don’t fight. That storyline is straight out of the book along with some of the encounters they have with IT. There are changes but the basic premise, of unity, of friendship, of belief and fighting back against darkness remain the same.
Even more integral to me, is that we have Mike and Stanley more central in the story. While Chapter 1 relegated some of their parts to other characters, Chapter 2 brings them back to their importance in the story. Mike is the historian, the one who remained behind while Stanley is returned to the key part he played in the book, sacrificing so others can fight IT. Even better, each character is strong and woven into the story, building on the elements of friendship, fighting abuse, and believing not only in yourself but in your friends.
The design work and costuming of IT along with all of the horror elements are well done. IT is creepy, with Bill Skarsgard doing a terrific job of the role, maintaining scary until the end when the Losers fight back and defeat him in his own nest. There are several effects throughout the film that are interesting and brilliantly created. I especially love the design of the true face of IT and how it originally arrives in Derry. I also love the balloon scenes. They add to the air of repetition that the book has, where everything repeats.
The actors do a great job in their parts, both the adults along with the children. I love the way the film goes back and forth from the adults to the kids, along with how well they mesh the emotional reactions to each other. Some scenes are emotional to each character and their reactions are believable and authentic. I can’t pinpoint one performance over another, they all excelled. James McAvoy was emotional as Bill as was Jessica Chastain. Jay Ryan was compelling as Ben, still in love with Bev. James Ransone hit all the comedic notes as Eddie but he also played Eddie with the right amount of heart and courage. I found Bill Hader’s performance riveting. Isaiah Mustafa was a strong performance, convincing as Mike, fearful but also unifying the others. Bill Skarsgard was just creepy as Pennywise but that was the right tone for the character.
Where it is missed was in the horror element. While the scenes with the adults, confronting their fears and doubts, remembering their lives as children were emotional and satisfying, there were very few moments where I was afraid. They portrayed fear well and it was believable but most of it was predictable for me. Maybe it’s familiarity with the book but it was missing the scarier scenes for me. I also was puzzled about the lack of a couple of characters in the film. Missing was all of Bill’s wife’s role along with the real reason for him rediscovering his bike Silver. Without her inclusion, there was no real reason for the moments with Bill in the shop finding Silver, except for an endearing cameo by Stephen King. While I liked it, I would have preferred the original purpose for her and the bike to be kept in the movie.
Ultimately, the movie still had an emotional weight to it despite the lack of chills. The actors were believable in their roles, there was more of the book in this version than Chapter One, and the ending was satisfying. I liked the blend between the present and the past, including Bowers’ part and there still were some creepy moments in the film. If you like Stephen King, IT and the first movie, I think you’ll like Chapter Two. I know I did, especially since it captured the message of the book: Friendship will help you defeat anything.
Rating: 4 out of 5 balloons.