IT Chapter Two is a violent movie, but its opening scene goes too far in that regard, and actually ends up having a negative impact upon the rest of the movie as a result. The sequel to 2017's IT picks up 27 years after Pennywise's last attack on Derry, Maine, and finds the Losers' Club having to band back together to once again defeat the evil entity known as It, this time hopefully for good. Most of IT Chapter Two is focused on at least one of the Losers, with the exception of its first scene.
Much like Stephen King's novel, IT Chapter 2 begins with a couple, Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) and Don Hagarty (Taylor Frey), during the carnival in Derry. They're abused by a group of teenagers, and when Adrian finally responds, the couple are viciously, violently attacked by the group. Since Adrian is asthmatic he struggles to breathe, and we have to watch as he is brutally beaten by the teens and then thrown off a bridge and into the river, where Pennywise comes to claim a new victim.
Of course, IT Chapter Two is a violent horror movie, and so some disturbing imagery and scenes of a graphic nature are to be expected. But in its depiction of the assault and subsequent death of Adrian Mellon, and how that impacts the rest of the movie, it means the opening scene doesn't work and makes the whole thing worse.
IT Chapter 2's Violent Opening Is Disconnected From The Rest Of The Movie
As mentioned, the opening scene of IT Chapter Two is extremely violent. It runs for quite a while, and the camera doesn't flinch away from showing the punches and kicks land, nor the homophobic verbal abuse that accompanies it. And yes, IT Chapter 2 is an R-rated horror movie about an evil clown, so this isn't a complaint about the violence per se, nor the fact it includes homophobia. The problem is that the graphic violence shown in IT 2's opening feels completely disconnected with what the rest of the movie is doing.
Many critics have noted IT Chapter Two isn't particularly scary. That's not inherently a bad thing, but it does mean there are lots of sequences it plays for laughs, or instead attempts to go deeper in its drama. Much of the movie is about overcoming childhood trauma and beating your fears, but where does Adrian's death lie within that? It's never really addressed again, and we don't see any similar scenes. Most other acts of violence are carried out by or under the influence of Pennywise, which fits with the movie as a whole. The opening scene, however, stands apart from these: it's a horrifying burst of sadistic violence committed by regular people, not a supernatural monster, but there's no real attempt to examine that, nor to draw a line between the attack and Pennywise. It feels more like a scene from a drama about a homophobic abuse, not an evil clown movie.
IT Chapter Two's Opening Makes Its Richie Subplot Worse
Adrian and Don aren't the only gay men featured in the film. One of IT Chapter 2's biggest subplots is about Richie (Bill Hader)'s sexuality, which is mostly just hinted at across the film. We first have hints in a flashback that he was gay, and then the very end of the film reveals that he was actually in love with his best friend, Eddie (James Ransone), but never told him. This is confirmed by the scene when Richie carves the initials R+E into a fence.
This makes a change from the IT book, where there's subtext Eddie loves Richie (but nothing as overt as the initials), and to his credit Hader conveys Richie's emotions brilliantly. But then consider that IT Chapter Two refuses to outright, openly state that Richie is gay. It might be obvious to most by the end, but nonetheless it doesn't commit. That makes it far worse, because this feels like it was included to work against the opening scene: to show that now Richie can be free and live without fear of who he is, when that's what had got Adrian killed. But again, the movie never draws that parallel, and it's quite startling that IT Chapter Two will show in graphic detail that violent murder of a gay man with zero follow-up, but then won't make the sexual orientation of a main character explicit.
IT Chapter Two Repeats This Problem With Bev's Assault
IT Chapter Two's opening is standalone in the sense that it doesn't fully connect to the rest of the movie, but there is one other scene of violence that feels born of a similar mindset, which is Tom (Will Beinbrink)'s physical assault of Beverly (Jessica Chastain). This comes when she receives the phone call about It's return and goes to leave for Derry, before her husband finds out and attempts to stop her. It's clear this isn't the first time this has happened, but that doesn't make it easier to watch.
Bev fights back and is eventually able to leave, but it's yet another shocking moment of violence that doesn't feel earned by the rest of IT Chapter Two. Like with the murder of Adrian, these are crimes that happen to people on a regular basis all around the world in some form or another, and as such they do have a place in cinema. The issue here is that IT Chapter 2 doesn't reckon with these abuses; we see Bev overcoming her fears to help defeat It, and that could be a powerful survivor story, but it doesn't do enough to tie these threads together or explain why it had to showcase such scenes of violence. Like with Adrian's murderers, Tom never appears again. There's justice to be found for the murder clown, but not for the real people committing the real atrocities.
Why IT Chapter Two's First Scene Worked In The Book
The greatest defence of IT Chapter Two's opening scene is that it happens in Stephen King's IT novel, and therefore should be included in the movie too. However, across Andy Muschietti's two IT films there are plenty of omissions from the source material because they wouldn't translate well to a modern film, and that would apply to the Adrian Mellon scene. Context is very important here, with society and attitudes towards LGBTQ people very different back in the 1980s, when the book was written. King's story took place just a few years after the real-life murder of Charlie Howard in Maine, where he was beaten and thrown over a bridge by a group of teenagers while out with his boyfriend.
That's obviously an inspiration for the scene in King's IT book, but it's different reading about it to watching it. But what's more is that the book has more time and space to devote to the aftermath, and actually does chronicle what happens to the teenagers, including a court trial. In IT Chapter 2, they just disappear again, and Adrian becomes little more than an afterthought despite featuring in its most shocking moment. Hate crimes against members of the LGTBQ community are still regularly committed, but IT Chapter Two doesn't make any bid for relevancy or attempt to make a timely message with its opening scene, and it hurts the entire film as a result.