It: Chapter Two is the much-anticipated sequel and concluding piece to the story begun by 2017 box office smash hit It (which in its closing title card was revealed to be It: Chapter One), and is once again directed by Andy Muschietti from a script by Gary Dauberman, based on the novel by Stephen King. Picking up 27 years after the original, Chapter Two finds the losers all grown up, and all living their adult lives outside of their hometown of Derry, Maine…all, that is, except Mike Hanlon. When a devastating and brutal murder/disappearance rocks the town, Mike is the first one to know that Pennywise, the terrifying clown the losers battle in the first chapter, is back, and he’s back with a vengeance. With time running out, and a newly discovered method of defeating Pennywise discovered, Mike calls the rest of the losers back to Derry to fulfill the oath they made, and finish the job for good. Chapter Two stars all the kids you know and love from the first film, as well as Jessica Chastain as adult Beverly, James McAvoy as adult Bill, Bill Hader as adult Richie, Isaiah Mustafa as adult Mike, Jay Ryan as adult Ben, James Ransone as adult Eddie, and Bill Skarsgård once more as the terrifying Pennywise.
The first It, released in September of 2017, hit like a bolt out of nowhere to become one of the highest grossing R-rated movies of all time, and the highest grossing R-rated horror film ever made. Showings sold out the entire opening weekend, and even into the next couple of weeks (though the film had zero competition in the two weeks prior, and nothing else was coming out that weekend, so it wasn’t exactly difficult); people were hungry to see this story on screen again after a flurry of fantastic trailers hit the web, and it was quickly remembered that the TV mini-series starring Tim Curry hadn’t aged very well apart from Curry’s performance. I remember enjoying the first It (although not fawning over it as much as everyone else), and the general consensus surrounding the film was that it, along with its inevitable sequel, would surely make up the definitive adaptation of Stephen King’s most infamous novel. However, while that may certainly still be the case due to no one having made it into a feature film before, the two-part adaptation has some noticeable disparities developed by Chapter Two, which in many ways is a lesser film than its predecessor.
Let’s get what works out of the way first since that doesn’t require as much explanation or justification: firstly, the film is very well shot. It’s not exactly gunning for an Oscar, but it is refreshing to see that cinematographer Checco Varese actually has a handle on when a dutch tilt is beneficial and when to hold back and simply go for the wide or medium shot. The way he frames each group shot and how he photographs the town of Derry ranks right up there with the very best-looking Stephen King adaptations, even if how he chooses to shoot Pennywise doesn’t come with much remarkability. As well, the film is exceedingly well-performed, and while not everything about the performances work to their fullest potential (there are some remarkably awkward comic bits in the beginning that don’t land nearly as well as they should), this cast does really solid work for what they’re given to work with, and it’s not as if the screenplay is exactly Sorkin-esque or even all that impressive to begin with.
From a plot perspective, It: Chapter Two is far more ambitious than its predecessor, attempting to squeeze a lot of story into a two hour, forty-five minute run-time that still doesn’t feel as if it covered everything it was supposed to. Attempting to uncover what Pennywise actually is, how to defeat him, and how this whole larger story wraps up, plus give the characters the necessary growth so we don’t lose interest during this movie and come to attach these actors to these roles is something no horror director or director in general would guarantee they could do in two movies, much less one that has to wrap up this much extra material. That’s a pretty large project to take on, and figuring out how to end a two-part saga when the first part sets such high expectations is something director Andy Muschietti should be commended for even attempting, even if the results weren’t quite as groundbreaking for his second go-round.
Unfortunately, what doesn’t work sticks out like a sore thumb against what does since what works now worked before, and thus is less novel the second time around. This movie is long and you can start to feel how long it actually gets around the halfway mark, with each individual member of the Losers Club seemingly getting their own sort of mini-movie based around artifacts they each have to find to defeat Pennywise. After the uneven pacing issues that complicate the first act and force the movie to take its sweet time in getting to the main point of the story, the second act introduces these artifacts, and while they make for the most entertaining part of the movie with some really solid set pieces that should delight horror fans, they also grind the story to a halt, and the intersplicing of these set pieces with some other Pennywise scenes that don’t seem to have anything to do with them make up a large chunk of the narrative, about half of which feels unnecessary. Maybe it’s just me, but I think about half of that section could have been revealed through dialogue later on down the line.
Or, maybe if the film hadn’t devoted a little over half of its enormous length to flash-backs and wholesale scenes with the young Losers, many of which weren’t in the first It, in order to justify getting the old cast back for another go-round and a semi-forced “forgetting” storyline, that middle section wouldn’t have felt so long. In fact, most of Chapter Two’s issues stem from its length, especially that of its finale, which drags on and on and on until you find yourself begging for the Losers to just defeat him so you can go to the bathroom already. Seriously, it’s one of the longest finales for not just a horror movie, but any movie, that I’ve ever seen. This movie is an investment of your time, but only about half of your interest, and it’s disheartening to say that, given how strong the first movie was. It’s likely that with a little more tweaking, the film could have been cut down by maybe an entire 45 minutes, and after watching the finished product, it probably should have been.
One thing I forgot to give special mention to that works about the film is the performance of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. He’s not in the movie as much as the last one, but what he is in, he sells, and he sells it brilliantly. While it is true, however, that Pennywise the clown isn’t an actual clown by those who’ve read the book and those who’ve talked to them (he’s actually some demonic entity, apparently), this is one of those times where the movie adaptation probably should have differed from the book for the sake of tonal consistency and retaining its status as a true horror film. Chapter Two attempts to strip the ambiguity away from what the titular “it” (aka Pennywise) is, allowing the Losers to defeat him, but the stripping of that ambiguity also strips the film of most of its most horrifying elements. It’s much scarier to just have a demonic clown running around than it is to have to face giant CGI monsters or a trio of light balls, and the movie seems to forget that diverging from the source material sometimes makes for a better film (as was the case with Brooklyn and Arrival). Sometimes, having a more ambiguous antagonist actually lends to the horror element, making it stronger. As it is, Pennywise is only really scary about twice in this movie, and both times are as a regular-seized clown.
I’m sure there are a number of things I’m forgetting regarding the flaws and triumphs this movie contains, and I’m sure if I watch it again, I’ll catch those things in a much clearer light, but the truth is, this isn’t a movie I would want to watch again, and I would only feel obligated to purchase on home video as a companion piece to the first one. The unevenness of it, the noticeably bloated length, and the awkward comic beats in the beginning make this entry into the Stephen King movie world something I’m not eager to re-visit any time soon (though I’ve certainly re-visited worse). The characters and direction are well done, sure, but after exiting the theater, I just didn’t care about what I just saw. In the end, It: Chapter Two tries at a lot, and manages to grasp some things (like its performances and cinematography) pretty well, but rather than float to the top of the horror classics pile, this movie sinks under the weight of expectations and its own ambitions.
I’m giving “It: Chapter Two a 6.8/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.