So it’s about living with regret, how we dislodge memories and the messy mechanics and symptoms of masculinity. It’s about inhaling the past, and how home no longer feels like a destination or refuge but something backwards – a symbol of drift and decline. Or at least that’s what I wanted Andy Muschietti’s It Chapter Two to be about. This is one of those specific examples of a film that I’m willing to make unhealthy and proactive concessions for. Films about memory and how it corresponds with regret tend to howl louder for me and as a result I’m prone to overlooking many of It Two’s flaws until… I couldn’t. Thing is that much like It’s 2017 predecessor, It Two is a film with rich ideas, lofty in its themes and realized with a confidence that would suggest a command of Stephen King’s source material. But it communicates these ideas in the most banal, lowest common denominator way imaginable. I really like what It Two is about, I just hate how it goes about it.
Twenty-seven years after the events of the first film and the Losers Club reconvenes in Derry, Maine. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) is joined by most of the gang including Bev (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Eddie (James Ransone) where they dine in a questionably named Chinese restaurant. If the film’s opening passage involving Québécois filmmaker/actor Xavier Dolan and a brutal hate crime didn’t clue you in, it’s that Derry is a little behind on the times. The cadre, with the exception of Mike who opted to stay in his hometown, seem to have forgotten about that one summer where they encountered a homicidal clown. But the memory flushes in as the group needs to combat a new set of anxieties and preoccupations that speak directly to the traumas that they more or less forge through in their day-to-day lives.
What you get out of It Two is an examination of time as a pattern. The number 27 is reliable. Twenty-seven years and the traumas of the past, “It” resurfaces. It’s the past that’s riddled with self-doubt and confusion. It’s only when you abandon the past that you’re able to forge ahead. When the memory that you killed your brother, that you were compliant in the face of an abuser, that you allowed the bully to win, etc. influences all your decisions, how could you not lead a life that’s anything but capital T Tentative. Now that’s profound. But instead, there’s a lot of inane plotting here involving Native American rituals that threaten to treat the metaphorical as literal. That’s where It Two loses its way. The film is at its best when it remains rooted in the reality of its characters trauma. Everything else, the profoundly ugly CGI monsters, the psych ward subplot, and disappointing reliance on Bill Hader, one of the best dramatic actors on the planet, as “comic relief” (with self-aware air quotes) commands too much attention.
The catharsis Muschietti suggests by the film’s end, one where the Losers Club embrace a future that is informed by an understanding and acceptance of the traumas of the past, is a tender and thoughtful conclusion. But that’s after someone gets stabbed in the face, does battle with a clown-headed spider, and gets impaled by its pedipalp. At which point, it’s hard not to respond to all with anything more than an eye roll.