A film review by Craig J. Koban September 22, 2019

IT: CHAPTER TWO jj
½

2019, R, 169 mins.

 

James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough  /  Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh  /  Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom  /  Bill Hader as Richie Tozier  /  Isaiah Mustafa as Mike Hanlon  /  James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak  /  Andy Bean as Stanley Uris  /  Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise  /  Teach Grant as Henry Bowers  /  Jess Weixler as Audra Phillips  /  Jaeden Martell as Young Bill Denbrough  /  Sophia Lillis as Young Beverly Marsh  /  Jeremy Ray Taylor as Young Ben Hanscom  /  Finn Wolfhard as Young Richie Tozier  /  Chosen Jacobs as Young Mike Hanlon  /  Jack Dylan Grazer as Young Eddie Kaspbrak  /  Wyatt Oleff as Young Stanley Uris

Directed by Andy Muschietti  /  Screenplay by Gary Dauberman, based on the novel by Stephen King

IT: CHAPTER TWO falls victim to the pratfalls of many sequels in terms of mistakenly believing that bigger equates to better.  

Whereas the 2017 prequel film (and massive box office hit) did a solid job of adapting Stephen King's source material (albeit with some fairly unobtrusive tweaks and changes here and there), this unavoidable follow-up suffers from an egregiously long winded running time, some unwieldy scripting, and many questionably lazy creative choices overall.  I had found memories of IT: CHAPTER ONE as a two for the price of one feature - it was both a splendid 1980s period coming of age drama as well as a creepily atmospheric and unnerving horror thriller, all held together by Argentinian director Andy Muschietti's adept balancing of humor and scares.  Some of the pleasures of that film remain in CHAPTER TWO, especially in the form of a finely assembled group of actors, but self-indulgent bloat appears to have taken over this sequel, which has all but nullified any lingering staying power it wants to have with audiences. 

Considering the relative simplicity of the premise and story trajectory here, IT: CHAPTER TWO really has no business clocking in at nearly three hours. The previous film ended with the motley crew of banded together child misfits - self anointed as "The Losers Club" - finally ridding their existence of the demonic clown entity known as Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard).  Now, and after a 27 year absence, that dastardly spiritual baddie has made a return to the town of Derry to make everyone's lives a living hell again, especially for the Loser's Club (now adults) - Bill (James McAvoy), Beverely (Jessica Chastain), Ritchie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), Stanley (Andy Bean) and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa).  The only remaining member of the old child gang that stayed behind in Derry was Mike, so when he learns of Pennywise's nightmarish return he endeavors to contact and bring all of his friends back to their quaint home town to battle this evil spirit once again.  As the group initially takes pleasure in being in each other's company after such a long absence, they all soon realize the dangerous scope of the mission ahead, which requires them to individually hunt down and collect special talismans that are required to launch a ritual to banish Pennywise from their plane of existence for good.   

As with CHAPTER ONE, this sequel utterly nails it in the casting department alone.  Both of these films as a whole are at their strongest when it comes to character dynamics and actor chemistry, and regardless of whether we witness the members of the Loser's Club working off of one another in either in child or adult form, it's clear what great care has gone into gathering together these actors to forge such a well oiled team.  There's a wonderful early scene in the film showcasing these characters reconnecting at a Derry Chinese restaurant that involves a lot of sarcastic banter and frequent shots of booze.  We learn that Bill is now a novelist and screenwriter; Beverley still has supernatural visions when she's not fending off her abusive husband; Ritchie has emerged as a stand-up comic; Eddie remains as nervous as ever as a risk assessment officer; and Ben has completely lost all of his body fat and has emerged as a chiseled hunk.  There's a heavy nostalgia factor at play in IT: CHAPTER TWO, as both we the viewers and these characters take a spin down memory lane together. 

All of the adult cast are uniformly great here, with special accolades going to Hader as Ritchie, who manages to thanklessly score thankless laughs here at the most macabre and terror inducing of moments.  I've almost forgotten to mention Skarsgard as Pennywise, who is just as disturbingly unhinged as ever as Pennywise.  Despite the fact that he's buried under piles of prosthetics makeup and some CG tinkering, Skarsgard still manages to finely craft a performance of terrifying physicality (his grin alone is pure nightmare fuel), but he also continues to harness this monster's infectiously capricious edge that goes an awfully long way when elements built around him don't necessarily work.  Regardless of where one comes down on this sequel, it's undeniable that Skarsgard has created one of the defining and incomparable horror villains of the movies here.   

 

 

Yet, for as good as the actors are in this follow-up and for as much careful screenplay attention has been made to hone in on the adult Loser's Club and all of their hidden pains, insecurities and past mistakes, IT: CHAPTER TWO never really seems to pay off of the successes as its antecedent.  It's unquestionable that the film is populated by an embarrassment of performances riches, but too much of IT: CHAPTER TWO seems scattershot and ill focused, not to mention that this sequel feels overproduced.  There's a large overarching flashback structure to the film, which constantly reminds us of the younger personas that these adult characters once inhabited, but they really serve no fundamental purpose to the overall scripting trajectory of the piece.  And I was genuinely surprised by how this installment was lacking in tangible scares.  The first film, it could be accurately levied, suffered from some repetitive usage of jump scares to sell its horror, whereas in round two the makers have crammed a lot of computer effects into the proceedings, and even though they're spiffy and competently rendered, they upstage any of the terrifying visceral power this film should have.  Considering the aura of mystery and dread that CHAPTER ONE drummed up, CHAPTER TWO feels more disposable as a overly telegraphed monster movie.   

And we just gotta talk about this movie's running time.  There's something to be said about directors taking calculated risks with material, and there's certain obvious risks associated with making an epic length horror sequel that's 35 minutes longer that the introductory installment.  But so very little in this entry ever feels like it deserves such a running time, leaving the overall piece feeling editorially undisciplined.  There was a confidence of approach that typified Muschietti's vision for CHAPTER ONE, and even though that film has its share of creative issues, it never felt meandering and sluggish in the manner that CHAPTER TWO does.  The quest for the Loser's Club to locate those aforementioned talismans from their youth is strictly taken from the source material to appease diehards of King's prose, but excising them from the film could have made for a more neatly trimmed and stronger sequel.  And by the time the film careens towards is climax featuring the inevitable showdown between Pennywise and these kids-now-adults it seemingly goes on and on...and on...with no apparent end in sight.  I found myself checking my watch too much during IT: CHAPTER TWO, which I think wasn't the intended effect that the makers envisioned. 

IT: CHAPTER TWO is not so much of a bad sequel as it is a disappointing and underwhelming one.  Maybe Muschietti and company felt the need to go broader with scope and scale for the sequel, seeing as the huge financial success of CHAPTER ONE gave them more latitude to do what they wanted.  But that's precisely what's wrong with IT: CHAPTER TWO: It has an ambitiously sprawling length, yes, but at a cost of diminishing returns and payoffs.  To be fair, it was a joy to see the scrappy kids from the first film mature into bickering and troubled adults; witnessing them come together again to fight off an old enemy has an intoxicating entertainment value.  And unlike so many other sequels these days, IT: CHAPTER TWO concludes with a reasonable sense of finality and watching both films back to back now it's clear that they tell one large story that ends here with strong closure that doesn't hint at more spin-offs and sequels to come.  But this sequel still suffers from too many scripting asides, a preponderance of ostentatious visual effects and grandiose set pieces, and a lethargic running time that zaps the spin-tingling suspense right out of the air.  That, and when it comes right down to it, IT: CHAPTER TWO is about as scary as a balloon popping; sure, it momentarily startles audiences here and there, but never maintains a lingering aura of ghastly unease. 

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