The Losers’ Club returns to Derry after 27 years to face Pennywise the Clown once again in It Chapter Two, a breathless continuation of Stephen King’s seminal 1986 horror novel that’s just as good as its predecessor in almost every way – – but at nearly three hours in length, begins to wear out the audience.
It Chapter Two opens with two all-too-realistic scenes that cannily reveal the themes of the movie: a terrifying hate crime where a young gay man (played by Xavier Dolan) is brutally beaten and thrown from a bridge (inspired, in King’s novel, by a real incident in Maine), and a sequence of horrifying domestic violence where the adult Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is terrorized by her husband before taking off for Derry.
We’ll see Pennywise the Dancing Clown (once again played by Bill Skarsgård) bite the heads off small children later on in the movie, but none of It’s jump scares can top the real-life horrors that permeate underneath the surface of It Chapter Two. It’s good that the movie seems to realize and address that the Pennywise stuff is just a metaphor for real-world evil, but CGI-stuffed later scenes detract from the underlying themes.
With horrors coming back to Derry after 27 years – what, they didn’t have any murders or missing children in that timespan? – Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls up Beverly, Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Richie Tozer (Bill Hader), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) to return to their hometown to fulfill their promise and once again face It.
Conveniently, the Losers’ Club have all lost their memories of the events of the earlier film, and can now experience the same horrors, familiar to the audience, once again. Supernatural terror over Chinese dinner convinces them that something is indeed very wrong in Derry.
To arbitrarily break them up, Mike invokes the Ritual of Chüd – an element from King’s novel jettisoned from the previous movie and shoehorned in here – and tells them to each delve into their past and find a totem. Somehow. This accounts for the entire second act of the movie: each member of the Losers is once again terrorized by It in various forms, in an almost scene-for-scene retread of the first It movie, but now with a cast of adult actors in place of the kids.
That cast of kids in the first film was pretty much perfect, and Hader, Ransome, Ryan, and Mustafa all live up to the task of adapting those characters into adulthood. McAvoy and Chastain, meanwhile, feel miscast; more familiar and polished Hollywood movie stars, they bring more of their own quirks into the movie than they make out of the original characters.
The final act of It Chapter Two, too, feels like an extended redux of the events of the earlier film as the Losers’ Club makes their way into the tunnels beneath Derry through the creepy abandoned house to face off against Skarsgård’s Pennywise and his various incarnations.
Despite the familiar nature of the narrative, and arbitrary nature of the plotting (the whole Ritual of Chüd scheme, unlike in the novel, is ultimately a red herring), It Chapter Two is just as well-produced and directed (by Andy Muschietti) as its predecessor, and often keeps us glued to the screen based on the strength of the composition of individual scenes themselves. The storylines involving each character are also nicely (even subtly) resolved.
Additionally, the editing and CGI employed in the scare scenes is even more polished this time around – gone is the jittery Jacob’s Ladder Pennywise from the first film, and in his place something more pathetic and tangibly sinister. The Pennywise effects during the final showdown, combined with Skarsgård’s performance, create a truly memorable personification of evil that runs with the cartoonish Roger Rabbit nature of the CGI effects.
But throughout It Chapter Two, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had seen this before, and in a more streamlined version. No great movie is too long, and no bad movie too short, the old adage goes. But what about a movie that’s just pretty good?
That’s the area where It Chapter Two, which is a few minutes longer than Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and feels much more, ultimately falls. Like the first film, this isn’t a scary horror movie but an effective adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most famous novels, and a thoughtful rumination on evil and the real-life manifestations of the fear of the unknown. But at a combined two hours longer than the 1990 miniseries, It – like King’s original 1,138 page book – might just wear you out.