It Chapter Two, 2019.
Directed by Andy Muschietti.
Starring James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skargard, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, and Nicholas Hamilton.
Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call brings them back.
It Chapter Two has quite a few inside jokes built around a writer (James McAvoy’s adult version of Billy) unable to stick the landing for his novels. For those not in the know, it’s a rib directed at Stephen King (and one with a hilarious payoff), who is notorious for being unable to close out many of his terrifyingly personal stories with a satisfying ending, It included. Returning director Andy Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman have done the opposite with the back half of this narrative spanning 27 years and two different casts of characters; there’s an exciting finale alongside closure, but getting to that climactic final stretch (which is plentiful in scares and danger on a grand scale memorable final showdown) requires patience and likely for the viewer to be really invested in these characters.
Luckily, caring about the Losers Club, as children or adults, is an easy task. Either way you slice it, there is a talented ensemble of names, and it’s also a case where star power doesn’t even matter considering the largely unknown younger actors developed and maintained so much infectious camaraderie over the course of Chapter One, that sometimes they are more fun to be around than recognizable faces such as the aforementioned James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader. It’s energetic chemistry that carries over into the 27 years later transition with each alternative component correctly and believably cast (maybe with the exception of Ben, which was always going to be a hard sell no matter who was given the role).
The one flaw with It Chapter Two (and it’s a big one but nowhere near an experience ruiner) is the approach the filmmakers have taken for telling this concluding half. If you have been keeping up with pre-release information then you have every logical reason to assume I’m alluding to the near three-hour running time. I’m not. Andy Muschietti and Gary Dauberman have made a conscious decision to remain somewhat faithful to Stephen King’s novel by placing flashbacks filling in uncertain details surrounding the first cycle of murders and battle against the evil shapeshifting clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård also returns, continuing to crush the performance by playing to the fear-mongering strengths of the hellish entity). In doing so, it’s only necessary that the original cast is brought back for more scenes on top of a story that’s already fairly long and by design needs to start off slow (each character needs to be reintroduced one by one so that we can get a sense of who they are now, what they are up to, and how their personalities have changed).
Now, there are tidbits here and there that could be cut down, and the occasional scene that might not need to exist, but the extra time spent with the teenage cast is not the problem. Apparently, a ritual needs to be performed in order to kill Pennywise once and for all. The proposed ceremony also requires each member of the Losers Club to sacrifice an artifact of sentimental value, sending them on individual hunts out and about modern-day Derry searching for key objects. This portion temporarily kills the momentum of It Chapter Two as it splits up the reunited gang (both movies are always infinitely more fun when the group is interacting with one another) not long after everyone reconnects. One character jokes that it’s a stupid idea to split up for survival purposes; well, it’s also a stupid idea to split up because, regardless of if it happens like that in the book or not, briefly making the movie a fetch quest slows the story to a crawl.
Muschietti and Dauberm are evidently aware of this, as they stuff each of these sections with endless jump scares, chase sequences, creatures (it also needs to be pointed out that It Chapter Two has some of the most inconsistent CGI in recent memory, going from disgustingly imagined and rendered designs from rushed and ghastly unfinished effects), and psychological torment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; it’s as simple as that. However, it does quickly begin to feel like a gauntlet of all of the above, and something that must be endured rather than enjoyed, something inconsequential before the stakes are raised. If that wasn’t enough, Billy is then given an additional subplot regarding a child that now lives in his old home. Still, removing these elements is not the answer (the extra material with Billy adds to his character, is pertinent to the guilt he feels over his brother Georgie’s death, and also crucial to the demented way Pennywise operates); you just don’t need every sequence to suddenly burst with frights for the sake of frights. There’s nothing wrong with dedicating entire stretches to character development and mind games invading fears.
Outside of that, It Chapter Two succeeds everywhere else; it quickly establishes that same playful camaraderie between the adult actors, the characters are all well thought out containing their own individual arcs, and the final battle, while disappointingly familiar from the previous climax, is layered with multiple set pieces that are more adrenaline-fueled than nightmare fueled.
Surprisingly, there isn’t much expansion on the origins of Pennywise, resulting in him getting shortchanged on-screen time (if I remember correctly the second half of the novel was filled with mythological information and backstory), although it doesn’t deter Bill Skarsgård from making the most of every second. He’s assisted by storytellers willing to go places most mainstream horror movies wouldn’t (there are one or two deaths that are downright nasty, both for graphic detail and just who the victim happens to be), and even if Chapter One was example enough, there are no diminishing returns when it comes to shock value. Any time Pennywise feeds on life there is genuine sadness over the loss (the naivety and insecurities of his child victims contrasted with Bill Skarsgård’s master manipulator tendencies ensure it so), whether it’s a character we are attached to or someone newly introduced. Neither of these movies should be considered truly scary, but they are damn sure engaging and brought to life by performers that sell the drama while poking fun at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com