Sounds like most people are on the same page: sadly, this movie doesn’t live up to its predecessor. It’s just not as smart or as scary as Chapter 1 but to be fair I also think making Chapter 2 was going to be a tall order any way it was done. It made me wonder: is It really possible in movie form? The book is just so long and weird, and it’s hard to have both time periods fully fleshed out. In the book, the best parts are the parts in the 50s when the characters are kids. And the mythology only really works because of kid logic—it’s harder to sell that when they’re adults. That in and of itself would have been a hard hump to get over, but ultimately this movie stumbled both over that hump and others.
This second part clearly lacked some of the magic of the first movie, which was some perfect configuration of well-cast kids and genuinely creepy and/or scary scenes. I loved how the first movie depicted the start of their relationships and spent the time on character development so that you really believed how close and important they were to each other. My only criticisms of it where the strange omission of the very overt racism against Mike, the omission of Patrick Hocksetter (and that deeply disturbing fridge scene), and how they set up the final confrontation to be about saving Bev, rather than running straight into the fire to kill It.
If this second part was going to—unlike the miniseries—get into the weird mythology in the book, it didn’t quite work to leave that out of the first part. Stephen King himself says that sometimes he makes things worse in his books by explaining why scary things exist in the way that they do. Do I really need to know that Pennywise is basically an alien that hitchhiked to Earth on a meteor? It’s almost more scary if you don’t know at all. The mythology in the book is just plain ridiculous—silver bullets and the ritual of CHUD and the turtle—but it works during the 1950s part because they’re kids. The book spends quite a bit of time on the silver bullet issue: finding the silver, making the bullets, testing to see who was best with the slingshot. The slingshot itself was so emblematic of the book: kids fighting a powerful entity with a slingshot—a literal David and Goliath. If the entire crux of the fight revolves around belief being the thing that gives them power, it doesn’t actually matter which mythology they happen to come across the the encyclopedia or whatever—as long as they believe it.
The movie handled this pretty clumsily in the second part. It takes a while for the Loser gang to reassemble in Derry—I guess I was okay with that. But rather than bringing in CHUD, and glamour, and silver bullets in the first movie, they kept it all for right when the adults get back to Maine. And it takes the form of Mike drugging Bill with psychedelics so the latter and re-experience the research that Mike did with unnamed Native Americans to figure out how to defeat It… The whole Native American mysticism might have worked better if they were actual people rather than a convenient trope. In my memory, the book handled it better—as kids, they build a sweat lodge and go into it and have visions—it works because it’s something that the kids would have seen on TV or read about in school and totally believed. Even as I was watching it I was pulled out of the story for a moment to think about how clumsy this was. It was infodump and also took away some of Bill’s agency.
It’s impossible to depict visually how CHUD was in the books—a battle of wills—so instead the ritual takes the form of each Loser having to go off by themselves to find an “artifact.” This is where the movie starts to drag. Each person has a flashback and as much as I love the child actors from Chapter 1, this started to feel laborious. Mainly because each person got their own scary scenes when they were off by themselves and I didn’t find the scary scenes that scary. The special effects weren’t that great, and seemed to lack some of the slow creepiness that wasn’t necessarily high tech but was good from the first movie. There are some great scare scenes in the first movie: when Stan first sees Pennywise at the stanpipe, the fridge scene, the movie projector scene, the scene right after Bev brains her father. And they weren’t dumb jump scares—they were good—like the not-from-the-book scene where one of the boys (Stan, I think) is forced to go into his dad’s office but he’s scared of a painting that’s in there. (the painting comes to life, naturally—but a painting is just the sort of weird thing a kid would be scared of). The scares in this movie felt too much like the effects you’d see in a low budget horror movie on Netflix: not that realistic and not that original. (With the exception of the fortune cookies—I’ll give them that.)
Despite being somewhat bloated, some significant angles were cut from the book, mainly Bill’s wife Audra also being in Derry (and bewitched by the deadlights) and the full context of Bev’s marriage. The adults in the film definitely felt like older versions of the kids, but they also didn’t feel as fleshed out. It’s hard to translate the internal narrative from the novel to film without voiceover. The novel has the space to really stretch out and fully characterize the entire ensemble cast. The end result is that the adult versions of the kids lacked a sort of fullness in the film. Bev and Richie felt like they had a bit more to them, but you could entirely forget that Bill was supposed to be their leader.
They did a couple things really well: the movie was really well cast (despite the fact that I would love loved to have seen Jerry O’Connell as Ben and Amy Adams as Bev). But the cast was underutilized. There’s one brief, really creepy scene of Bill Skarsgard without his clown makeup on. (Although as creepy as I found it, the introduction of the idea of It in human form but pre-Pennywise just raised questions that didn’t really have answers). I respected that the movie, unlike the miniseries of my youth, didn’t edit out the hate crime that occurs in the novel. (My recollection is that the novel opens with that scene). I saw a Slate criticism of this scene, but like pretty much every Slate article, it exists for the point of critiquing something from a political standpoint that lacks any sort of depth. The point of that scene (It was published in 1986, btw) was about how Derry is rotten to its core. Derry looks like an ideal New England town. But It isn’t the only thing deeply wrong about the town. This is a town where people observed Mike (as a child) running for his life from racists who are going to do god-knows-what to him when they caught him and did nothing. A town where a bunch of boys are carving an H into Bill’s stomach and a car drives by, pointedly sees this . . . and keeps driving. The same place where adults are weirdly blase about the fact that so many kids are missing, or don’t seem to notice that something is traumatizing their kids. So there’s a hate crime—which was written to mirror an actual gay bashing that really happened—and what’s terrible about it is that no one is going to help the two men who are being attacked. And one of the attackers is a teenager, maybe even younger.
But two failures I can’t really forgive: Bill Skarsgard was totally underutilized. I don’t know what it is about him, but he is just one of those actors that I absolutely can’t take my eyes off of, even when he’s in stuff that’s kind of bad (cough cough Hemlock Grove). The first part of It was at its absolute scariest not when he was biting off people’s body parts or turning into various monsters, but when he was being creepy and unnerving. Case in point: his very first scene where he meets Georgie— he’s sort of wall-eyed and out of it and drooling a little and being otherworldly.
The other thing? How It is actually defeated. Metaphysical stuff aside, even twenty-something years later, I still have a clear image of the adult versions of the characters at the end of the books, stomping on It’s eggs and ripping It’s heart out. The final fight in the movie, though, it ends up boiling down to the characters surrounding It and shouting, You’re nothing! This just . . . doesn’t work. We know the characters don’t actually think It is nothing because four seconds ago they were screaming hysterically and spoiler Eddie was just fatally stabbed spoiler. Contrast to in the book, the kids are young enough to actually believe in silver bullets, a verbal talisman, and that an inhaler can have magical properties. The Ritual of CHUD stuff is hard—and taking it away sort of negates Bill being their leader— but I think they could have made do with Eddie dealing the lethal blow with the piece of iron-wrought gate being used as a spear. Back to my point about this being a movie or not—I almost think the only way they could have done all the CHUD and turtle stuff was if this had been a TV show, where they would have gotten the time to flesh out the mythology (because if it comes in bits it seems more reasonable, as opposed to one bad acid trip at Mike’s house.)
TLDR: Don’t think you need to see this in the theater, in particular because it will take your entire afternoon, but worth renting.