It Chapter Two treats Pennywise as a typical shapeshifting movie monster, not a metaphor for the dark underbelly of nostalgia.
When I was a kid, my dad had a sizable collection of Stephen King first-edition hardbacks. I was obsessed with them. Particularly, I was obsessed with It, a massive book with a title that could encompass literally anything. Once, I asked my dad what the titular It was. His response? “An alien.” Ten-year-old me was deeply disappointed. Why not call the book Alien? (I did not know about the 1979 movie). Why suggest an entity that could be literally anything, and just make it an alien?
Years later when I finally read the book for myself, I discovered my dad had buried the lede a bit with that answer.
I tell this story because It, both the book and the new movie, is crafted around those childhood memories: small, vivid, strangely easy to connect to our adult lives. And in particular, the recently released It Chapter Two is all about the childhood effluvium that shapes us as adults: the terrors, traumas, and broken moments that we think we forget when we leave them behind for the golden pastures of adulthood.
The new two-parter version of It made the decision to split the book’s alternating timelines into two separate films, with Chapter One set in the past and Chapter Two set in the present. This is simplistic, though, because It as a story is really about the past, and so what we end up with is a Chapter One about the remembered past and a Chapter Two about the forgotten past.
The movie, like the book before it, kicks off with a traumatizing depiction of a hate crime meant to announce that Pennywise has woken up from its twenty-seven-year slumber. In the book, where the themes are more thoroughly developed and there’s a stronger sense of Its presence as a reflection of the True Evil That is Humankind, the scene was upsetting enough; here, the scene seems tacked on for unnecessary shock value. It Chapter Two treats Pennywise as a typical shapeshifting movie monster, not a metaphor for the dark underbelly of nostalgia. Why throw in the book’s (second) most notorious scene if you aren’t going to follow through with the thematic implications?
After the opening, the movie shows us the likable kids from Chapter One as more-or-less likable adults, all easily identifiable by both visual cues (Ritchie is wearing the exact same glasses 30 years later, Bev is still a short-haired redhead, etc) and personality cues (Eddie is a risk adjuster). It’s all a bit like looking up your junior high friends on Facebook. Once again, It Chapter Two doesn’t have the space to fully develop its themes — in this case, that try as we might, we can never truly change who we are until we face our demons — and so the re-introduction of our faves feels rushed. The similarities are there so we know who the characters are, not so we understand the broader point the story wants to make.
Once the Losers Club, with one exception, has been re-assembled in Derry, they fall easily into their old patterns, and the basic thrust of the plot is introduced: They each have to go on a scavenger hunt to find an “artifact” from their past in order to perform a banishing ritual, a process that winds up jarring their memories and reminding them who they are. This is why It Chapter Two is a movie about the forgotten past, not the present: because so much of the movie is about the Losers revisiting the summer of 1988. We learn, along with the characters, what happened during those weeks that they split apart after their disastrous first attempt at facing Pennywise. In this way, It Chapter Two keeps the sense of intertwining timelines that worked so well in the book. It also allows us to see more of the Losers when they were kids, which was what made It Chapter One so charming.
For a bulk of the second act, the Losers are split up, recreating the situations they found themselves in when they were twelve years old. Various scary things occur, although none feel quite as scary or tense as scenes from the first movie. Henry, the bully from their youth, turns back up and terrorizes them briefly but is just as briefly dispatched by Ritchie. Henry’s meant to be a servant of Pennywise, but the subplot doesn’t really go anywhere — and why would a millennia-old cosmic horror need a human to do its dirty work anyway? Henry was more interesting — and much scarier! — in the first movie, where he’s the more banal sort of evil most of us have faced at some point in our childhoods.
During this sequence also get a Stephen King cameo, in which he plays an antiques shopkeeper who disses Bill’s writing. It was honestly pretty great.
Eventually, it’s time for the Showdown (Chapter Two) and it’s — fine. The ritual for which they had been gathering their artifacts fails and Pennywise turns into a clown-spider, a nod to Its true form in the book (a giant space spider/manifestation of evil who is also a lady, something that isn’t included in the movie, which was frankly a huge disappointment). Revelations are made, fears are faced, traumas presumably overcome (but since they were so underdeveloped to begin with, this element falls flat) and eventually the Losers defeat Pennywise with what I can only describe as the Power of Hard Science Fiction. “Well, actually” nerds everywhere rejoiced to see their favorite mode of argument save the day.
Then, in the aftermath of the fight, the movie reveals something that I did not expect: Ritchie was in love with Eddie. I say “was” because of course Eddie dies at the hands of Pennywise and is indeed the only Loser to do so.
Much was made of the movie’s opening scene, but I personally found Eddie’s death more offensive. Ritchie’s love for Eddie, hidden behind jokes about mom-fucking and the like, runs parallel to Ben’s secret love for Beverly and is approximately a thousand times more interesting. It was a moment that spoke to my own experiences with realizing my queer attraction as an adult, with suddenly understanding new facets and meanings of my own memories. I don’t think I’ve seen anything that’s gestured towards that experience in mainstream pop culture — and it fits in so well with the movie’s supposed themes about childhood, memory, and forgotten or misunderstood pasts. But the filmmakers just tossed it out there with one of the worst tropes in existence.
It Chapter Two works well enough as a sequel, but it’s not as charming or as scary as Chapter One. The decision to split into the past and the present doesn’t work terribly well, largely because the story is dependent on the way the past and present intertwine in adulthood — so the split wasn’t as neat as it looks on paper. For this reason, It Chapter Two feels rushed and over-full. The adult characters are less developed than their child counterparts, and the complex thematic overtures from the book are lost.
And, like my dad, when asked to tell us what exactly Pennywise is, what do the filmmakers slap us with?
Interstellar Flight Magazine publishes essays on what’s new in the world of speculative genres. In the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, we need “writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope.” We use affiliate links and Patreon to pay our writers a fair wage. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.