Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic
When it came out in 2017, It was a massive hit that exceeded all reasonable expectations people had for it. It broke all kinds of box office records, including the biggest September release ever, the highest grossing R-rated horror movie ever, the highest grossing Stephen King movie of all time, and the highest grossing movie with a single pronoun as the title (Honestly, I’m glad there are only two movies here; the “It vs. it” distinction in writing about It is tiresome). The first film ended with a title card that read: “It: Chapter One” indicating the studio already had plans for a sequel, which was the 2nd half of author Stephen King’s novel. Thus, It Chapter Two arrives in theaters with some lofty audience expectations. While the sequel floats in some respects, sadly, it sinks in other areas.
Whereas the previous film was set in 1989, the sequel jumps forward 27 years to 2016, showing a modern-day Derry, ME, one that is not all that different from the Derry of yesteryear. Right off the bat, the film opens with essentially a hate crime being committed during the town fair, as a gay man is beaten by some locals and thrown over a bridge, only to be “rescued” from the water and torn apart by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransome/Jack Dylan Glazer), and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff), all get the call from Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa/Chosen Jacobs) to fulfill an oath they made to one another to come back to Derry and finish what they started if It resurfaced. All of them have left Derry and can hardly remember what happened, except for Mike, who never left Derry and remembers it all and has been studying and preparing for this moment.
Kudos need to be given to the casting department of this film for finding actors that work so well as the adult counterparts of the kids that were introduced in the first movie. Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, and James Ransome are particularly perfect casting choices just in terms of looking reasonably like the younger actors. Getting McAvoy is something of a coup too, and it’s a stellar cast all around for a horror movie. It’s hard to get an all-star cast for a horror movie; typically, horror movies serve as a launching pad for younger actors who eventually go on to bigger and better roles, so to speak; kind of like the minor leagues in baseball.
James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are the two biggest names in the cast, and they are their typically good selves, but Bill Hader deserves the most acting praise for his performance as the adult Richie, aka, Trashmouth. Hader does a tremendous job bringing the comic relief (obviously), but also some great dramatic and emotionally resonant moments through the character. Also, Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise should not be lost in the shuffle. He hasn’t had very many leading roles yet as an actor, but his portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown is iconic. He has made Pennywise menacing, terrifying, disturbing, unsettling, but also darkly funny in moments. This Pennywise belongs in the pantheon of great horror monsters.
There are genuine moments of horror in It Chapter Two that Pennywise elicits. Perhaps most evocative is the scene that was featured prominently in the first trailer, where Beverly goes to the apartment she grew up in and has tea with the old woman who lives there now. It is slowly revealed that things are amiss in the apartment, as laid out in the trailer. How it plays out in the film, however, is more terrifying and unnerving than the trailer lets on, which was nice for a change.
However, Chapter Two lacks a lot of variety of horror that made the first film so enjoyable. There was a variety of horror based on the individual fears of the kids in The Losers’ Club. This time around, there is some variety, but there is an overreliance on jump scares. This gave everything that the members of The Losers’ Club were going through feel similar and familiar, which was disappointing considering how I thought the first film did such a good job in having Pennywise changeup the ways he tormented the kids from scene to scene. In the first film, he was like a pitcher who has command of a fastball, curve, splitter, slider, changeup, and even a cutter. This time around? He’s relying too much on his fastball, his curve is hanging a bit, and he’s only occasionally mixing in his changeup (As Stephen King is a huge baseball fan, I have no qualms throwing in this extended baseball metaphor).
The film furthers themes established in the first movie, especially the dichotomy of facing fear alone vs facing fears as a group. It’s a little contrived that they all must go out on their own to retrieve personal artifacts to eventually meet back up and face Pennywise together. This essentially leads to everyone having their moment to face their fears alone, relive childhood trauma, and be tormented by Pennywise.
The film uses these and other moments as an opportunity to incorporate some flashback scenes to when they were kids, bringing back the original young cast for some unseen moments from their summer of 1989. At this point, I suppose it is worth mentioning that that movie is nearly three hours in length, which is abnormally long for a genre like horror which is known for being lean and efficient with its runtimes; it’s not unheard of to see horror movies that clock in at under 90 minutes. It Chapter Two is nearly twice that length and feels it at times. It’s probably lazy to say that the film could have chopped 30 minutes and still worked, but it did feel like there were some scenes that could have been tightened to reduce the runtime a bit, especially in the bloated middle portion of the film.
It generated a lot of good will and high expectations for its sequel, It Chapter Two. The sequel is a bit of a victim of the first film’s success, leading to some self-indulgence that harms the overall product. It also relies too-much on jump scares as a device for delivering its horror, which is compounded by the movie’s extensive runtime. Despite all of that, the ending is a satisfying enough conclusion to the story, features some solid performances (particularly Bill Hader’s), and still has some genuine scares in its bag of tricks.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars