It: Chapter Two
“It: Chapter Two fails to treat trauma with any nuance or care, leaving its victimized characters high and dry.”
Title: It: Chapter Two (2019)
Director: Andy Muschietti 👨🏽🇦🇷
Writer: Gary Dauberman 👨🏼🇺🇸 based on the novel by Stephen King 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Kosoko 👨🏾🇺🇸🌈
Here’s the thing about Andy Muschietti: I love his movies. Mama (2013) both terrified and resonated with me, and It (2017) was no different. I’d gone into it without real expectations, and fell in love with the way Muschietti rendered the depths of human horror, as told through Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise.
But It: Chapter Two doesn’t hit the mark the way its predecessor did. The pacing feels dragged out at 2 hours and 50 minutes long, and in case you’re wondering—it doesn’t need to be that long. It just doesn’t.
The film charts a formulaic hero's journey, with space fillers such as the side plot where each member of “The Losers Club”, the moniker the main characters had given themselves as kids, must find an item that represents themself. Now multiply that by several characters searching for various totems, and you can imagine how boring and repetitive this quickly becomes while adding nothing to the movie. Meanwhile, the small handful of jump scares fail to elicit more than a shrug, and tonal changes between horror and comedy add up to a disjointed experience.
That said, it’s not all bad. Chapter Two succeeds most through its cinematography. Some shots, like when Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) and Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) reach for each other while trapped in their own shared nightmare, are simply beautiful to watch. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make the film feel like anything more than an awkward extension of Muschietti’s stronger showing in 2017.
Oof, Beverly. With hair like winter fire and January embers, how I feel for thee.
The first chapter of It mishandled her, for all the reasons detailed in our previous review. She never found strength independent of the boys around her, and her arc felt half-finished, seemingly at a loss beyond establishing her as a victim of sexual abuse or an object for the other members of the Losers Club to fawn over. Simply put, she felt like a token nod towards gender diversity.
I’m disappointed to report that Chapter Two continues that trend. Beverly Marsh, now grown, starts out being abused again but this time by her husband. She escapes to her hometown of Derry when fellow Loser Club member Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls, but is forced to confront memories of her father, her original tormentor. Once again, her primary plot involves a love triangle between Loser Club leader Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) and Ben. Her many and varied strengths feel brushed aside in favor of this tropeish role for women in film—as something for men to conquer.
Let’s not forget who Beverly is: She can see the future, a byproduct of being exposed to the DeadLights—a glowing, supernatural effect emitted by Pennywise during Beverly’s capture in the previous It film. Yet Chapter Two barely mentions the power. Chapter Two also seems to forget how Beverly formed the glue of the group and had become their rallying cry during the last fight with Pennywise. We never see how she’s her own person, with an entire life outside of her victimization. Instead, the film only cares enough about Beverly for her to be saved, to be a romantic interest, or to be a straightforward solution for anything supernatural.
Not only is it sad because Jessica Chastain is a GODDESS and we don’t deserve her, but Beverly has so much power. She could have had so much power, I should say, but she falls back into the damsel in distress trope all over again. It’s a waste of a character. Of an actress. Of an arc. Rather than do the hard work of showing how people deal with pain and trauma, Muschietti’s It films prefer to sensationalize violence—with Beverly as the lightning rod.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 20% of key cast and crew members were POC.
The aforementioned Mike and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) present the most visible examples of cultural diversity, the former being Black and the latter, Jewish. But their characters are thrown in, rather than thoughtfully groomed. Stanley dies in the first 15 minutes of the movie, and Mike is revealed to be a “villain” around the 70% mark. Sure, as you learn, he’s a villain because of his own tunnel-vision idea that to defeat Pennywise, the Losers must reunite—and he’ll do whatever it takes, even lie to his childhood friends, to make that happen. But let’s back up for a moment.
For starters, it feels glaringly unfair that Mike is the only Loser who stayed in the town of Derry. Rather than be given a chance to forget its horrors, he sat among the darkness of their experiences. Stewed in it for 27 years. The circumstances feel like a punishment, especially in contrast to those of the film’s white characters who got to move on and forget.
I understand that as an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, Chapter Two has its hands tied to decades-old source material, as well as to its own casting in 2017. Accordingly, there are no new characters who last more than a moment. Even then, so many of those throwaway characters could have been people of other ethnicities. What is the point of setting Chapter Two in 2016 if we aren’t going to acknowledge its modern time period? Diversity matters on screen, yes, but also consider the underrepresented actors who could have benefited from the opportunity to be cast (and paid). Reflecting an updated Derry circa 2016 wouldn’t have taken away from the movie. Not. One. Bit.
Deduction for LGBTQ: -0.75
LGBTQ representation in Chapter Two is messy at best.
I’ll give a quarter of a point for the inclusion of Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), who is coded to be gay. You get acknowledgment for doing the bare minimum.
But if the inclusion of a probably-gay character like Richie represents one step forward, the film promptly backpedals three steps with the brutal hate crime that “awakens” Pennywise just to the plot going. The scene is triggering, it’s cruel, and it didn’t have to be there. Any horrific act could have been done to awaken Pennywise, and though the murder is canonical to the book, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been changed for an audience that no longer lives in 1986. Worse yet, the scene drags on. One could argue this is because Muschietti wants to show the horror of Pennywise’s influence (and the horror of hate crimes against LGBTQ). But that doesn’t take away from the waves of pain you feel with each kick and punch Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) receives.
Muschietti also never brings up the attack again. Sure, Mike tells the Losers “a murder has happened” and the town mentions “something horrible,” but never does the film call it what it is: a hate crime. If Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman wanted to make social commentary, as interviews seem to indicate, then they needed to follow through. Call it a hate crime. Explain why it’s horrible onscreen, not just from the comforts of a press junket. Bring the abusers to justice.
The boyfriend who survived? Who saw his lover beaten, thrown off a bridge, and then killed? Never seen again. What happened to him? Is he okay? Did he make it to New York City? Or did he stay in Derry to avenge his lover? We learn nothing about him. His pain exists solely as shock value for presumably straight and cisgender audiences.
Mediaversity Grade: F 1.92/5
As with its 2017 precursor, It: Chapter Two fails to treat trauma with any nuance or care, leaving its victimized characters high and dry. Outside of its tragic failings on diversity and representation, the movie itself is fun. But the scares aren’t as good as before and the plotting feels inharmonious.
If you’re a diehard King fan, especially if you’ve read It, this movie will scratch your itch. But if you’ve only been introduced to the series through its latest movies, Chapter Two will feel like what it honestly is: a mess.