Why 'It: Chapter 2' Sucked
The world has seen some pretty ridiculous Stephen King movies, and we'll be spotlighting a few of the unintentionally funniest later in the week. Today, though, I want to look at It: Chapter Two, which was a special kind of failure. It wasn't bad in the same way other King movies were bad, and yet it had no right to be as bad as it was. Unlike your Maximum Overdrives or your Lawnmower Mans, it had a big budget and a polished cast. It immediately followed It: Chapter One, which succeeded in just about every way, and yet it fell short.
You might say it was set up to fail. It the book flashes between two timelines, alternating between 12-year-old kids and their adult selves 27 years later. Instead of alternating between the timelines, the first movie showed just the kids, the best part of the story, leaving the adults for part 2. The two-part 1990 miniseries also went that route, and its second part, the adult part, was nowhere as good as the earlier kid half.
Except, unlike the miniseries, It: Chapter Two doesn't just cover the adults. it alternates between the adult timeline and the kid timeline, much like the book. Of course, we already saw most of the kids' story in Chapter One, so the sequel comes up with additional scenes, giving every single kid a new Pennywise encounter for us to watch. That's kind of the perfect way to adapt It, right?
Nope, it's not. Because since we've already seen each of the kids face Pennywise once already, the movie can't do the same thing and expect to surprise us. Instead, it tries to make these new scares more spectacular or even funny, even while we know they're coming. As we've discussed before, this is the equivalent of new traps in a Saw sequel or new accidents in a Final Destination sequel. The new encounters don't scare you, and they in fact aren't even designed to. They're designed to delight you—you're cheering on Pennywise with each new goofy form that he assumes.
So, even if you find these encounters fun and funny—and you are supposed to find some of them fun and funny—you don't get the horror experience that the first film promised. And if you don't find them funny, well, that's even worse. Failed horror can at least be unintentionally funny. Failed humor is just a bad time for everyone.
When the adults aren't being humiliated for our entertainment, there's something very unconvincing about them. The problem isn't the performances (though, you can always more easily lose yourself in a horror movie starring unknowns rather than one with a famous cast). The problem is how they're written into the world. The adults have these horrific mini adventures then keep reconvening, unaffected and good-humored (at least until right at the end). They all stay at a hotel that, without explanation, has no staff.
The adults are also all very ... shiny. They're attractive. They're all extremely successful, and when we see them in the movie's opening scenes, we get these Hollywood-style glimpses into their freakishly high-profile lives, all limousines and adoring fans. In the book, this is actually a plot point, something about how their encounter with It as kids granted them good fortune. It might not be an especially good plot point—in both book and movie, the more interesting stories are of the adult Bev and Eddie being unhappy—but without it, we just have this unrelatable wealth with no purpose.
Compare these adults to, say, the Showtime show Yellowjackets. This show, which also flashes between kids on an adventure and their adult selves reuniting, feels a lot like a Stephen King book (or maybe it just feels like Lost, which felt like a Stephen King book). Like in It, naturally, the kids' timeline has the scarier story, but unlike Chapter Two, the adults feel just as real as the kids.
Of course, it's easier to develop characters when you have ten hours of television to work with, so I suppose I could suggest It would be best as a miniseries. Not a 3-hour miniseries like we got in 1990, but one that spans a full season. And yet I believe that a sufficiently skilled screenwriter could condense the whole thing into a good single film—in part because the adult half of the story really doesn't have that much plot.
In Chapter Two, the adults come together. They go their separate ways and have their separate vignettes, which take up most of the film but have very little consequence. Then, they get together (again) and fight It (again). A script could fairly easily just introduce these adults and give them maybe half an hour of screentime tops, flashing between them and the kids' scenes that we saw in Chapter One. We wouldn't get as many Pennywise scares as the duology gave us, but that would leave the few we get even scarier.
For a while, director Andy Muschietti talked about putting together a supercut that combines both films and spans six hours. I'd be more interested in seeing him do the same thing but make it two hours.