IT Chapter 2: Adaptation Breakdown

IT Chapter 2 is the latest Stephen King movie adaptation and a follow up to IT (2017). This one, however, stumbles to the same hurdles as any popular book.

If you’ve read my piece on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, you know what my feelings are toward Warner Bros. when it comes to an adaptation. I was definitely skeptical for this one as well but the trailer seemed promising and Chapter 1 was a well-written movie. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. has again missed the mark again with adapting an otherwise great book. I say Warner Bros. and not Andy Muschietti because the issues with the movie are decisions that typically come from a studio. And I refuse to believe that Andy Muschietti can make a great movie like IT Chapter 1 and then give us an average sequel. I think IT Chapter 1 is one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time. It does skimp out on characters like Mike and Stan but for the runtime, it does good with everyone else and also avoids the weird teen orgy sex scene. Chapter 2, however, is average at best.

The book is so enormous that I don’t even know where I should begin. I think I’ll just go through my issues with this movie from the viewpoint of the characters.

Bill Denborough – The only striking problem is the stutter with James McAvoy never felt the same with the child actor Jaeden Lieberher. Maybe it was a creative decision to just give us the stutter in a few key moments but otherwise show he got over that. In the books, however, once Bill comes back to Derry his stutter is just like how it was when he was a kid in 1958. I also didn’t understand what purpose his bike ‘Silver’ served in this movie. We never felt that relationship in the first movie, so bringing it back just for a few scenes was probably just a waste of runtime. Maybe it was just for that Stephen King cameo. Let’s also talk about the psychedelic trip sequence from the tribal ritual. That sequence in the books is just amazing and is probably my favorite chapter. In the books, that happens in the clubhouse when they were kids but thankfully, they changed that. I too feel adults tripping is just more believable. But the way the scene plays out almost feels like what a kid would think getting high would be like. It’s a typical close up in the center of the frame with distorted sides and a shaky-cam effect. This is then followed by some weird CGI with the deadlights and some ancient creatures where it’s hard to determine what is actually being shown. The best psychedelic sequences in movies are extremely steady and gradual but this one is so frantic that it never immerses the audience. This obviously has nothing to do with Bill’s portrayal but it’s a key scene with the character so this is the place for it. But overall the movie did a great job with scenes McAvoy was in to remind us that he was the leader of the losers.

Richie Tozier – The problem with this character is that he never really had a strong fear, to begin with. In the book, his biggest fear happens to be a werewolf in 1958 and it becomes vague when he grows older. He always experiences IT with someone from the Losers and his only solo encounter is the Paul Bunyan statue sequence. But they changed his adult fear to his secret of homosexuality which I was actually impressed with. But the problem is making Eddie his crush since we even never got a hint of that in Chapter 1. It felt extremely on the nose and forced in terms of shoving an LGBT love story in the mix. Keeping his partner/love interest a mystery would have been far more interesting. But other than that, Bill Hader stepped up to the task and displayed every emotion convincingly. Despite his amazing one-liners and quirky mannerisms, it felt like an extremely grounded and even performance.

Mike Hanlon – Audiences are just expected to connect to this character when he has had barely any screen time in the first movie. Based on how few interactions The Losers had with Mike in Chapter1, in real life they probably even wouldn’t remember him.  A part of me felt that they would fix his character in this movie since he would have a lot to do but his entire screen time feels like a plot device and almost all his dialogues are expository. Even the dinner scene which is full of great character moments and has a glimpse of everyone’s unique personality has Mike just describing off-screen events and trying to bring us up to speed with what is about to happen. Despite having more screen time than before he seems even more useless. By far the worst adapted character from the books.

Beverly Marsh – This character has been done exactly half right. The movie was completely on point not just in aesthetics but how vulnerable and emotionally damaged the character was. And props to Jessica Chastain for never making her character seem too strong at any moment. Even when she is enjoying herself and having a laugh you can almost feel something holding her back. But it’s the writing for her love story that completely threw me off. So, in the books, Bill and Bev reconcile as adults. They don’t end up together however because Bill’s wife Audra gets caught in the crossfire in the final battle and ends up catatonic. Bill is distraught, decides to stay with a paralytic Audra and Bev understands. She does move away from her abusive husband with Mike but it’s never actually implied they get together. It’s left to interpretation and but it’s obviously more than likely they become a couple. But this movie handles things extremely on the nose again. I can’t understand why exactly Bev chooses Ben over Bill considering she chose Bill when they were kids. Is it just because he’s not fat anymore? Or maybe she realizes things with Bill can’t work out because he’s married. If that’s the case, why did they kiss? The Bill-Bev dynamic is completely ignored, never talked about after that one kiss and it almost makes Bev seem one dimensional again.

Ben Hanscom – I am actually pretty happy with this portrayal. Although we seldom see him take charge in any situation and he lacks any interesting dialogue, they didn’t damage what was already established. Due to a lack of runtime, he’s sidelined to the love interest but he wins the girl so yay. Consistent with the younger Ben played by Jeremy Ray Taylor, we can see the way he looks at Bev and how out of place he feels when he sees Bill and Bev together. He does have a lot more to him in the books but due to a lack of runtime, we never get that. That’s just collateral damage and I have no real issues with what we did see of him.

Eddie Kaspbrak – Also a great portrayal which is consistent with both the character in the books and the kid played by Jack Dylan Grazer. Again, we don’t get a lot from the books but whatever we do get has been done really well. His chemistry with Richie is fantastic in both the Kid and Adult versions except the one-sided gay relationship angle. The moment when he freezes in the house on Neibolt Street was very well played out and is actually something original and not from the book, so that’s impressive. No complaints overall.

Henry Bowers – I was very curious about what they would do with this character since he was portrayed really well in the first movie. But I was also sort of hoping they wouldn’t bring him back since there’s a lot more to his story than what’s been shown. In the books, despite being a bully he has a tangible reason for hating each of the Losers. When the kids defeat IT, the blame for all of the kids murdered in 1958 shifts to Henry Bowers and he too plays along because of how terrified he was when he saw his friends get mutilated by Pennywise. He gets sentenced for his supposed crimes and spends his time at a Mental Institution. Also, one of my favorite chapters in the book which describes his time spent there, the other inmates and the overall atmosphere. He escapes because Pennywise wants him to do his bidding since the adults don’t really fear a clown anymore and he was unable to kill them when they were alone in town. It’s almost as if Pennywise is the same bully to Bowers as what Bowers is to the Losers. But instead of fighting back he just plays along with his requests because of how terrified he is.

What happens in the movie is almost exactly what happens in the book except there’s more weight to it since you know why Bowers is doing it. Also, Mike gets severely injured and is in a hospital ward for the rest of the story. Bowers wants revenge for the last 30 years in prison but also does it because Pennywise is manipulating him. What happens in the book is almost like closure for the Bowers rather than an actual place in the narrative. But since we didn’t have a background to his character, his screen time feels completely useless. Not to mention the adult actor Teach Grant has a completely childish and over the top interpretation of the character. Which is weird because the Bowers portrayed by the kid actor Nicholas Hamilton seems very mature and grounded. Major inconsistency in both the portrayals. Also, the CGI for Patrick Hockstetter was a major disappointment. I’m not a VFX expert but his entire body felt extremely smooth and rubbery, his skeleton lacked detail and it just never felt scary.

Pennywise –Absolutely none of the scenes with Pennywise were actually scary and it’s his other forms that felt more convincing. A clown trying to scare grown-ass adults will never work and this is felt even in the book. Stephen King compensates that with actual adult horrors like an abusive relationship between Bev and her husband, a raging lunatic escaping from a mental institution and a loved one getting caught in the crossfire ultimately paying the price. Obviously, we got none of that in detail because the screen time won’t support it. But my biggest problem with the movie Pennywise is his Spider-form in the end. A giant spider is actually quite terrifying but put the head of a clown on it and it becomes a joke. The spider in the book was actually very well written and all some sequences with him were extremely tense. He’s never explained much even in the books and how they defeat him, although extremely cosmic, would have been more interesting to watch than what we got. I won’t go into much of that since that’s a huge piece in itself but what I will say is that the finale either needed to be cosmic and psychedelic or give us a logical victory. This movie, unfortunately, didn’t give us either. The cosmic elements felt gimmicky and the insults to weaken him felt like a cop-out from a writer’s point of view.

The movie really doesn’t have a lot of flaws from a filmmaking standpoint apart from the poor CGI, a few character choices and the overuse of flashbacks to when they were kids. But almost all of the problems can be attributed to the kind of studio this movie comes from. Despite the R-rating, there is nothing in this movie that cannot be shown to teenagers in this generation. Apart from the language and some use of blood, the movie never uses that R-Rating to its advantage. WB clearly wants the movie to get as much commercial success as it can and this means not pissing off general audiences. But that’s the thing, the source material is not meant for general audiences. The kind of stuff that happens in the book will make audiences leave the movie midway shouting curses and hating the film. Obviously, WB can’t have that. And since they know they can’t scare audiences anymore, they’ve infused a lot of humor which surprisingly works.  There are just too many inherent problems with the idea of adapting a 1200-page horror/coming-of-age book into two movies, especially if you plan to make it a big commercial success.

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