Director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman return to the It franchise to invite us back to Derry, Maine. That damned clown is at it again. Only, this time, like a car ride to a new place, it (no pun intended) isn’t as scary or interesting on the second go around.
Set 27 years after the events of It (2017), Chapter Two takes place in 2016 with the members of its Losers Club firmly in the grips of middle-age. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer in Chicago; Bill (James McAvoy) is a famous novelist (and clear parallel to source-material author Stephen King); Richie (Bill Hader) is a successful standup comedian; Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only Loser to remain in Derry, is the town librarian; Ben (Jay Hanscom) is a renowned architect; Eddie (James Ransone) is an insurance risk analyst; and Stanley (Andy Bean) is an accountant.
When Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the murderous alien clown responsible for a defining childhood moment in each of their lives, returns, the Losers must decide whether to abandon their lives and risk everything to stop the clown’s 27-year child-devouring cycle once and for all.
It Chapter Two borrows much of its fear factor from body-horror master, John Carpenter, and gross-out horror extraordinaire, Sam Raimi. Lent, stolen, or otherwise acquired, these tactics are deployed effectively, even if they seldom result in genuine scares. Although Skarsgård is every bit as ghoulish and sinister as he was in the original, the Pennywise isn’t as menacing after being forced to retreat in a battle against seven children.
The cast surrounding Skarsgård’s creepy clown is superb. Hader, who has made a name for himself on the HBO series Barry, is phenomenal. The ever-underrated Chastain is the other standout, but there isn’t a weak link in the bunch. Credit to the casting department for finding not only a stellar cast, but one that (with the exception of McAvoy) could pass for older renditions of their younger counterparts.
For King, the king (pun intended) of blockbuster horror novels, a popcorn approach to horror—complete with jump scares—is the logical way to go. In the midst of his own King Cinematic Universe, the author makes a Stan Lee-esque cameo, recites a few lines, and earns the accompanying laughs.
Using the source material as a guide, Muschietti and Dauberman keep the Losers separated for nearly half of the film’s unbelievable two hours and 50-minute runtime. Although the Losers each have some semblance of a personality, none of them are interesting enough to carry the movie for such a long stretch.
It clicked when its leads were pitted against one another, riffing off of one another, or protecting one another. The sequel is no different, but, maddeningly, the Losers aren’t given as much screentime as an entourage. Chapter Two replaces the camaraderie with flashbacks or new footage from the summer of ‘89. The movie becomes overly reliant on our nostalgia for the younger Losers, ultimately trying but failing to establish an emotional spine through the kids.
Perhaps the most uneven sequence in the movie, Chapter Two opens with a hate crime against an openly gay couple at the Derry fair. This sequence is pulled from the novel and inspired by a real event that occurred in Maine during the ‘80s, but here it is presented without comment or context and never returned to again. Perhaps this was a misguided victim of the editing bay as Warner Bros. nudged the movie under 180 minutes, but as is, it’s shocking and vulgar.
It Chapter Two lacks the charm of its predecessor but more than makes up for it in pure length. Unfortunately, even supplanting the original’s runtime by 35 minutes isn’t enough to sufficiently scare its audience or give each character more than one defining trait. Without the time to develop each Loser, It would’ve made more sense as a miniseries.