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SYFY WIRE It Chapter Two

How It Chapter Two changes Mike Hanlon from the book, for better and worse

By James Grebey
IT Chapter Two Mike

It Chapter Two makes quite a few changes to the ending of Stephen King's original book, to the point where the author himself makes a cameo appearance to take a stab at a running joke about how James McAvoy's character sucks at writing endings. While diehard readers might be outraged that there's no celestial turtle-god in Chapter Two, it's hard not to see why the filmmakers decided to maybe change some of the weirder elements of the story. And it's easy to see why they made another change to the ending by giving Mike Hanlon — the only black member of the Losers' Club — a much bigger part in the finale, especially after shortchanging the character in the first film.

In the book and in the film, Mike is the only member of the Losers' Club who doesn't leave Derry when he grows up. While his six friends have successful careers, forgetting about him and Pennywise in the process, Mike remains in his hometown and awaits Pennywise's return. It's a sad existence, but Mike, who probably knows more about Derry's history than anyone alive, remains at his vigil, and he sends word to the other Losers that it's time to return to finish the fight 27 years later.

Unfortunately, in the book, Mike doesn't get a chance to actually confront Pennywise after wasting away almost his entire life for this moment. Henry Bowers, the psychotic bully that Pennywise sent after the Losers as kids, escapes from the Juniper Hill Asylum and attacks Mike, nearly killing him. Due to his injuries, Mike is unable to go with his friends when they head into the sewers to defeat Pennywise once and for all — and he's nearly killed again when a Pennywise-possessed nurse tries to finish him in the hospital; the other Losers save him by sending him energy.

Because Stan Uris killed himself rather than return to Derry, the Losers are down two members compared to their first showdown with Pennywise. This isn't the case in It Chapter Two, where the rest of the Losers are able to take out Henry before he injures Mike too much. As a result, Mike is still leading the Losers when they travel to Pennywise's lair.

It Chapter Two Mike 2

It's nice to see Mike getting his due on the big screen, because in the first film, he had his plot in the book stolen out from under him. In the book, it's Mike, not Ben Hanscom, who learns about Pennywise and Derry's history, but the first movie has Ben hitting the stacks at the library and discovering Pennywise's 27-year patterns of terror. For him to get sidelined again in the second film — even if this time it's what happened in the original book — would've been a bummer.

So, instead, director Andy Muschietti gave Mike a new plot, along with some character development. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly shortly after the first movie came out, he revealed that he wanted to show how much of a toll staying in Derry took on Mike, describing him as "a junkie actually. A librarian junkie. When the second movie starts, he's a wreck."

As played by Isaiah Mustafa in Chapter Two, Mike fits Muschietti's promised description. Although he initially seems like he's holding it together, the film reveals that he's been stealing from Native Americans, lying to his friends, and generally isn't doing too well. Chapter Two is in many ways about dealing with trauma, and while his friends need to tackle their repressed memories, Mike has been living with It (literally) this whole time. It makes sense that he would be damaged by It, and the film does a decent job of exploring this.

The unfortunate aspect of this change, though, is while it does give Mike more to do, it also gives him a chance to screw up. Mike learned about the Ritual of Chüd (which is much less weird in the film than it is in the book, where it involves creatures people biting each other's tongues and attempting to make their foe laugh), but he didn't tell his friends everything he learned. The ritual's participants all died the first time it happened, and Mike didn't mention this part to his friends because he didn't think they would go through with it if they knew, and because he earnestly thought that they wouldn't suffer the same fate.

It makes sense for the movie version of Mike, who is obsessed and a little delusional, to mislead everyone (including himself) about the Ritual of Chüd. Unfortunately, it makes him into a bit of a villain, as he lied to his friends and nearly led to everyone's deaths.

Whether this change works depends on how you view heroism, perhaps. By denying Mike his plot in the first one and adding the layers of deception and delusion in Chapter Two, Mike doesn't have a clear-cut hero moment where he unambiguously saves the day in a way that only he could, the way most of the other Losers do. Instead, the heroic thing he does is to stay in Derry in the first place. The 27-year experience isolates and nearly breaks him, but it puts him in the right place to marshal the troops when it's time for the final fight. No other Loser did that.

For a movie that's funnier than it is scary, It Chapter Two leans heavily on trauma, and the strength of Mike's character comes from understanding the implications of that trauma. The changes the film makes to Mike and his ending are understandable, frustrating, and admirable, if a little inelegant. But then again, maybe the point is that there's no elegance in staying in a miserable Maine town waiting for a child-eating clown for a quarter-century.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.