Why 'It Chapter Two' Struggles to Nail Its Complicated, Supernatural Ending
This story contains major spoilers for It Chapter Two, including a discussion of the ending.
When we first meet grown-up Bill Denbrough, the successful novelist and frustrated screenwriter played by James McAvoy in It Chapter Two, he's struggling to get the ending right to his latest film project, an adaptation of one of his bestsellers. The blank page, that constant source of anxiety and fear, tortures him. Soon, Bill gets called to set to meet with the film's star, who also happens to be his wife Audra, and its director, who, in a charmingly bizarre cameo, is portrayed by filmmaker Peter Bogdonavich. They've got bad news for Bill about the ending: It sucks.
Right off the bat, it's fair to assume that It Chapter Two director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who both returned for the sequel after the record-breaking success of the 2017 original, are having some slightly meta fun with the audience. Stephen King, the prolific writer of It's 1986 source material and countless other horror novels, has a perhaps unfair reputation for failing to deliver satisfying conclusions, particularly to some of his longer and more expansive narrative works. (He's even gone back and re-worked the ending to 1978's The Stand multiple times.) Part of the blame can also be directed towards faithful readers, who often find a story so engrossing that they'll inevitably be pissed off by its attempts to provide closure and tie up loose ends. As Bill knows, endings are tricky.
With a 1,000+ page novel to work from, Muschietti and Dauberman had a difficult task ahead. How do you stay loyal to the spirit of King's original ending while crafting your own finale? Do you condense or invent? What about the ancient turtle? At 169 minutes, It Chapter Two is an unwieldy ride, often choosing loud scares and emotional confrontations over coherent storytelling, but it does streamline the plot in certain ways.
Going into It Chapter Two, the big question was how the reunited adults of the Losers' Club would defeat Pennywise, the killer clown brought to creepy, toothy life by actor Bill Skarsgård. The group returns to the town of Derry, Maine after 27 years only when Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the sole member to remain in the community, calls them up to let them know Pennywise is up to his old violent tricks. The Losers fought Pennywise, a shape-shifting and consciousness-invading alien being with deep ties to Derry, as children. Now it's time to end the battle once and for all.
After a creepy meal at a Chinese restaurant, where Pennywise sends a disturbing message via fortune cookies, the crew gets down to brass tacks. Mike's plan involves performing the Ritual of Chüd, a ceremony that a tribe of Native Americans used to trap Pennywise and taught to Mike years later. (These scenes are not particularly good or culturally sensitive.) In order to carry out the ritual, each member of the group must recover an artifact from their childhood, which sends each of the Losers on a haunted scavenger hunt involving their own confrontations of the lingering effects of trauma. Plus, lots of gross-out effects.
Once they get all the objects together, the group ventures down into the sewers, where they end up standing around a leather vessel and chanting "turn light into dark." For a brief moment, it looks like the ritual almost worked, sucking the orb-like energy balls that constitute Pennywise's power into the device like a piece of equipment from Ghostbusters. Problem solved, right? Not quite: a giant red balloon forms in the vessel and grows and grows. The Ritual of Chüd is a dud, which shouldn't be terribly surprising since it was attempted in the past and failed to defeat the mysterious alien force forever, and now Pennywise is coming back as a giant spider-like creature.
Plunged into a Lord of the Rings-like battle with a giant creature with a healthy appetite, the Losers do their best to fight off Pennywise and stay alive. Sadly, they're not entirely successful on that front. After saving Richie (Bill Hader) from an attack, Eddie (James Ransone) gets impaled by Pennywise, raising the movie's Loser Club bodycount to two after Stanley's suicide in the film's opening section.
Just when you think all hope is lost, the Losers stumble on a new plan: They'll make Pennywise feel small. Not just physically small -- emotionally small, too. In a sequence that wouldn't exactly hold up to much scrutiny if you tried to explain it to a friend after the movie, the group basically defeats Pennywise, a powerful being of unknowable origins, by being really mean to him and telling him they don't think he's scary. It's like a Roast Battle, which I suppose makes sense because Hader's character is a stand-up comedian in the movie.
But it works: Pennywise withers under the threat of verbal humiliation, shrinking into a tiny baby-like version of himself. Unafraid of the puny clown, Mike rips out its heart and the group finally destroys it together. When they emerge from the underground, the remaining Losers realize that the scars on their hands, which they made together as part of a post-battle ritual, have healed. The haunted house on Neibolt Street collapses. Dazed and covered in dirt, the group decides to go for a swim together in the quarry, a symbolic cleansing that also mirrors a scene in the first film. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) and Ben (Jay Ryan) even share a kiss underwater, which looks a little unsanitary.
In the final coda, each character gets their own little emotional beat, including the requisite scene of Bill getting to work on a new novel, presumably with a satisfying ending this time. Beverly and Ben are on a boat. Mike is shown finally driving out of Derry, which mostly gets off scot free here and remains largely unexamined. If there's something missing from It Chapter Two, it's the sense of a larger moral universe that exists in the town and in the country the Losers inhabit. Yes, King can occasionally be clumsy in the way he connects his terrifying stories to larger historical events and social issues, but It Chapter Two feels especially untethered to the horrors of reality and the texture of everyday life in Derry. Even at almost three hours, it's content with floating instead of really digging deep.