Director: Andrés Muschietti
Budget: $60–70 million
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
Story by: Stephen King
A sprawling narrative, sometimes meandering, and often stumbling into aimlessness, IT: Chapter Two can be quite messy, and given its nearly three hour runtime — a lot of film to consume (a fair share of that, empty calories). The cast don't have nearly the charm and chemistry of the first — despite best efforts from both Ransone and Hader, and a significant amount of it's plot threads are just retreads of ones found in Chapter One.
But...it's still good.
Skarsgard is as bombastic, and twisted as ever; his presence is always felt. Jump scares are unfortunately still there, but the shapeshifting and reality warping sequences outdo the first. Set pieces are suitably creepy as well, with even the film's more mundane locations feeling oppressive, and wreaking of malevolence. It's also an overall meaner film (when it's not being funny), opening with a rather disturbing hate crime sequence and dosing later moments with a heaping spoonful of child violence.
The final act tapers a bit, but never wavers on presentation. And in fact, many of Chapter 2's more impressive visual tricks occur near the book end. I don't want to give away specifics, but let's just say that if you're a fan of what the Nightmare on Elm Street series does with its dreamscape presentations — especially the fourth one — there's no question you're gonna dig this return to the town of Derry, a lot.
CHRISTIAN VALENTIN'S TAKE
When I read it several years ago, Stephen King’s It was the first book in a long time to make me emotional by its conclusion. The interplay between youthful adventure and adult trauma was potent, the finale bittersweet, the scope intimate yet grand. So it was disappointing to watch this movie attempt a similar structure as the novel - switching between the adult plot and childhood moments - but fail in execution, tone, horror, thematic weight. Not just compared to the novel but also in regards to its much more effective predecessor.
Chapter Two’s greatest strength is its adult cast. Each person perfectly embodies their younger counterpart, to such a convincing extent that there must be some time travel going on behind the scenes. Bill Hader’s Richie is the scene stealer, meshing subtle characterization with the character’s clownish personality. But every performance is rife with subtle touches, childhood quirks evolved and matured. The chemistry is wonderful and naturalistic, at least when the Loser’s Club is together.
The first act is the strongest for that reason, but the sequel begins to unravel once the group separates to search for artifacts tied to their past. The movie enters a repetitive rut, one loaded with weightless scares, jarring humor, and subplots that go nowhere. Go to location, search for token, flashback to childhood, Pennywise antics then followed by Pennywise in the present, repeat five times for at least an hour. In the book, switching between past and present worked as tense foreshadowing, tragic contrast, impactful character development. In the film, the flashbacks rarely seem necessary plot-wise, but largely come across as shoe-horned sequences to insert more scares. The child actors are excellent, but the scenes lack the genuine innocence that made the characters so compelling. Bill Skarsgard is still terrifying as the fear-consuming predator, so those sequences are entertaining horror spectacle, but Pennywise lacks bite despite that toothy grin of his.
In 2017’s It, the young protagonists felt vulnerable and trapped, which enhanced the clown’s lurking menace. Skarsgard’s performance and CGI also made Pennywise truly seem like a salivating beast just barely concealed beneath its clown facade. Only a few moments in the sequel capture that animalistic presence. Otherwise, Pennywise is either just a teasing trickster or a generic CGI monster. Despite Chapter Two delving into the clown’s cosmic horror origins, Pennywise never reaches the heights of the first movie’s antediluvian evil. And any terror he exuded is long gone by the hilariously anticlimactic finale.
Compared to the novel and other movie, the town of Derry and its secondary antagonists also suffer. While the first film didn’t fully capture the “small-town Americana meets Lovecraftian hamlet” vibe of the book, the place at least felt corrupted by Pennywise’s presence. Derry is barely a footnote in Chapter Two; the only time residents exist is when a plot contrivance is required. The streets are consistently deserted, the town reduced to disjointed locations tailor-made for jump scares.
Henry Bowers and the rest of the Loser’s Club families are reduced to footnotes as well. In the novel, the domestic drama provided an all-too-human contrast to the largely supernatural danger that the kids faced. When fear failed, Pennywise switched to more direct threats to combat the adult Losers. Chapter Two’s familial ties are minute background details while Bowers is an extraneous slasher villain that randomly appears in three scenes, more filler atop the shoe-horned flashbacks.
Chapter Two made me appreciate the first movie much more. The 2017 film was cohesive, well-paced, creepy, and emotionally resonant. Its sequel is bigger in every way but muddled, overstuffed, and surprisingly hollow.