The version of Stephen King’s It that came out last year wasn’t bad, and in some ways was better than the source material. The young cast was wonderful, I was impressed with the acting, and the monster was weird and creepy and memorable. It ended with these kids beating back the monster that was terrorizing the town, but not killing it, and they knew they’d have to return to finish the job in its next cycle, 27 years later. Chapter Two was therefore inevitable.
Now adults, the same people, played by older, different actors who are still pretty darned good, return to Derry, Maine to reprise their monster-killing efforts and finally finish It off.
It (the movie) is unwatchably bad. It (the monster) is going to be defeated (spoiler? It (the book) is 33 years old and there have been multiple versions of the thing on TV and movies) by…random geegaws and the Power of Belief, none of which makes any kind of logical sense — the whole thing is going to build to a nonsensical conclusion. Which means that the appeal of the movie cannot rely on the ending, or the satisfaction of seeing the plot come together. Which means the movie lives or dies on the quality of the storytelling. This movie dies a grisly death, I’m sorry to say. There were many flaws, but two gigantic ones that made it impossible for me to enjoy the movie.
1. It slimed me with sentimentality.
The primary characters were wise and good and kind, with little flaws of no consequence that they agonized over, just to show how important their self-improvement was. Their difficult childhoods and youthful tragedies did not change their inherent wonderfulness, but only gave them a glow of saintly martyrdom. King has always had this mawkish strain running through his books — it’s a significant tool in his bag of tricks for getting readers to identify with his heroes — but it is indulged to the max in It. Kids are always revered innocents in a Stephen King story, with great potential and power.
But never forget: King slaughters kids in horrible, detailed, bloody ways to keep his stories moving. The little angels get dismembered, disemboweled, and decapitated, because there is some warped element to King’s psychology that he, as an author, bravely exposes for his audience to weep over, but Jesus, man, I really don’t want to see that shit.
2. It killed its momentum with flashbacks.
Oh god, this was the worst. Remember, there was an It, Chapter One that told the story of the heroes’ childhoods…but that was last year. We can’t trust that the audience remembers anything from the prior movie! Therefore, everyone has to be reminded. The movie doesn’t do this with, for instance, a little prelude that recaps the first movie. Oh, no…throughout the movie, we’re going to be fed little fragments from the first for each of the characters, and then some, and they’re going to do it intermittently. There are 6 hero characters, one of whom dies before any action occurs, and they all get multiple flashbacks to tell their back story, even the dead one. There are others, like Henry, who was a villainous switch-blade wielding teen in the first, and is now in a mental institution — even he wins a couple of flashbacks, to remind us of his menacing presence. It was wasted because all he is in this movie is a jump scare who is readily dealt with.
The central action the story is simple. The characters from the previous movie gather in Derry; they separate to gather little mementoes of their childhood that will have magic powers in their encounter; they gather in the sewer to summon and do battle with Pennywise, the evil clown. That’s it. But we get non-stop, fragmentary flashbacks to remind us why this relic from their past has personal meaning to them, and other flashbacks to explain why their lives are damaged, and more flashbacks to reveal Pennywise’s wickedness, and it pads the whole thing out to a miserable 2 hours and 47 minutes. Unlike most horror movies where I might twitch at the jump scares, this one had me cringing at every sudden backflip into 1989.
Goddamn, it ended after their triumph on a flashback to sunny, summery Maine in 1989, with smiling kids on bicycles and a haze of heartwarming sentimentality over everything.