In 2017’s It, a group of teenagers, dubbed the Losers Club, battled a malevolent clown who preyed on their deepest fears. After prevailing, they vowed to come back if It ever resurfaced. In It Chapter 2, 27 years have passed and Pennywise is again feasting on Derry, Maine. Now 40, the Losers must return home to get rid of It once and for all.
Chapter 2 (based on the second half of Stephen King’s novel) is less a sequel and more a direct continuation that happens to take place nearly three decades later. It retains the tone and themes of the first movie. This is important because the story involves the characters going up against their own pasts. The movies feeling the same helps the adult cast come off as older versions of the gang we met the first time around. It is a well-made, well-paced considering its length (it is 165 minutes without the end credits) and exciting conclusion to the saga. The biggest issue is the adult portion is not as strong. The majority of the character development, plot setup and emotion was with the kids. What it contains are the payoffs (which are generally pretty good), but getting there is not as fun since there is less for them to do on the way.
The early section focuses on the Losers reconnecting with their childhoods. All of them (except one) moved away and have forgotten what happened. While it is a useful dramatic device to force them to revisit their individual traumas, it also becomes a bit tedious. Since the audience has presumably seen the first movie, we already know most of what they are relearning (the teenage cast does appear in some new scenes that fill in a few gaps). It is essential to the story, yet slows things down a little too much. The only subplot that feels truly out of place is the return of their childhood bully, Henry Bowers. As kids, he was a part of them fighting their fears; he is entirely superfluous this time. Once they finally decide to go after It again, Chapter 2 picks up a lot. However, there is certainly some enjoyable stuff before then.
One of its best aspects is the cast, who are effective at reminding us of their child counterparts. James McAvoy is Bill, whose little brother was killed by the monster and led the original charge to destroy It. He has some good moments where he confronts his guilt over his brother’s death. Jessica Chastain is Beverly, the lone female. Chastain gives her a nice world-weary feel, even if the character goes through a lot of the same beats she already experienced. Bill Hader gives the best performance as trash-talking Richie. He offers comic relief and has the most rewarding arc. James Ransone just about matches him as germaphobe Eddie, providing a perfect foil for Richie. Isaiah Mustafa is Mike, the one who stayed, and Jay Ryan is Ben, now a successful businessman. They have by far the least to do.
As a whole, the lead ensemble is quite fun together. The other major character is of course Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise, still unsettling. My complaint last time was there was too much of him, diluting his impact. That is largely solved by making his threat more about what he represents to our heroes than about who he is. Skarsgård walks the fine line between goofy and scary, creating a memorable villain despite his one-dimensionality.
Another key here are the sets, particularly Pennywise’s creepy subterranean lair. It is full of long tunnels and sharp edges, as well as odd grooves in the wall suggesting it has been around for many years. Due to his ability to get inside his victims minds and take advantage of their fears, we can never be sure what we are seeing is real. The seeming endlessness of the design (and use of shadows teasing nightmarish terrors) adds to this, instilling a hopelessness the characters need to overcome if they are going to survive. It makes it feel like Pennywise is in control of Derry, stacking things further against the protagonists.
It Chapter 2 never feels its length, though there are some stretches involving the Losers on their own that do not work as well. While a tighter edit would have cut some of that, it also would have eliminated smaller moments that lead to the best emotional payoffs. It is a necessary compromise. Unfortunately, the adults are just less interesting. The filmmakers do what they can, keeping the central quest at the forefront and building to a satisfying final confrontation. It is a good, sometimes very good, and ambitious adaptation that really goes for it, surrealism and all. It is the lesser half, but fits with Chapter 1 to make a compelling horror epic.
3½ out of 5
James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough
Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh
Bill Hader as Richie Tozier
Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom
James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak
Isaiah Mustafa as Mike Hanlon
Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise
Teach Grant as Henry Bowers
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Screenplay by Gary Dauberman