Movie Review: “It Chapter Two”

   It: Chapter One set the horror scene ablaze when it first arrived in September 2017, receiving a warm reception from critics and audience-members alike, and ushering in the most dominant horror film of all-time (without adjusting for inflation) and a major victory for Warner Bros. When considering the difference in production and marketing, It: Chapter One may have been more profitable in theaters than any of the DC Extended Universe films (pardon only, perhaps, Aquaman) and more than doubled the worldwide gross of Warner’s other horror juggernaut in Annabelle: Creation. They were never coy about it either. Fans of the Stephen King novel or the IT miniseries knew this would be only the first half of the whole story and now, two years later, almost to the day, IT: Chapter Two has floated into theaters.

   The landscape is very similar to how it was in 2017. Prior to IT: Chapter Two’s opening weekend, theaters saw very few new worldwide releases, everyone too afraid to mess with the clown (more-so, actually, because it has always been a bad time for ticket sales), with Angel has Fallen carrying the number one spot the last couple weekends. Like its predecessor, IT: Chapter Two hit the stage and reminded moviegoers what a blockbuster looks like, opening to nearly two-hundred million-dollars worldwide and setting the second highest opening for a horror film in the United States and the second highest opening for a film in September. The only film that kept Pennywise the Dancing Clown from the number one spot was IT: Chapter One.

   That’s the narrative I’ve seen repeated when anyone discusses the new film. Chapter Two is an enormous success, but it has been hurt by series’ own standard. Headlines have called the film a small disappointment, when it remains to be one of the biggest horrors films of all-time. Not only is it a success in its own right, when propped up against other series sequels like The Exorcist 2 or Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the film is a downright miracle. The critical reception has been mixed-to-positive, but is considerably lower than the first film. Everything comes back to the thought that IT: Chapter Two can’t match the first.

   It Chapter Two is a supernatural horror film directed by Andy Muschietti and written by Gary Dauberman (both were involved in the predecessor) and is set twenty-seven years after the first film. The cast includes Jessica ChastainJames McAvoyBill HaderIsaiah MustafaJay RyanJames Ransone, and Andy Bean playing the adult-versions of the Losers’ Club with Bill Skarsgard reprising his role as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The younger members of the Losers Club also reprise their roles and do so in ways more significant than merely cameo appearances or small flashback sequences.

   Nearly three decades after the Losers’ Club stopped Pennywise, Mike Hanlon has been left to hold down the fort in Derry, Maine, letting his affliction keep him there as new events begin to occur that suggest Pennywise might have returned. Mike soon contacts the rest of the Club, reminding them of the blood oath they made with each other all those years ago to come back to stop the clown if he returns. Most of the Club can’t even really remember the events, but they agree to come back anyways, despite a sense of dread they can’t explain. The film sees them try to regain their forgotten past and figure out ways to combat Pennywise, ending It once and for all.

   I was excited for this film. The casting decisions had usual suspects, so-to-speak, like James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, and horror mainstays like James Ransone, an actor I can’t help but feel was cast, in part, by the court of public opinion because his uncanny resemblance to the child-actor (he was also in Sinister, which makes him an alright lad in my book). The most interesting casting decision was Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader who I was familiar with, but not as an actual actor.

   As it turns out, one of the biggest differences between It Chapter One and It Chapter Two is how Richie goes from my least favorite Club character in the film to my favorite Club character in the film. The actors are all talented and capable, as their established catalog of films can illustrate, but I wouldn’t say any of them blew me away beyond solid performances. Bill Hader, on the other-hand, was able to dial back the Richie character and equip him with actual maturity and likability, while maintaining the nervous and finicky sense of humor, of which, comes across very well.

   As excited as I was about this film. I think I was able to keep my expectations pretty in-check. I had read the book, I had seen the miniseries nearly a dozen times, and I knew, with complete confidence, that the second-half of the book does not land the same punches as the first. The cat’s out of the bag with Pennywise, so to speak, and, without the young children, their camaraderie and their friendship, the story loses one of the best aspects about itself. Thankfully, it seemed this was anticipated, and that’s why the young-cast is thrown into this film as often as they are. They’re there to be retroactively tormented by Pennywise and to advance subplots, including the love-triangle between Ben, Bill, and Beverly (although, not necessarily in that order). They are welcome additions and I think they helped add more to what was a less eventful back-half of the King book.

   I liked some of the additions made to this film, including one change made to the Richie character that, ultimately, allowed emotional-depth to a film that, other-wise, felt like it had to retread other emotional threads like Bill and his guilt over his brother’s death.

   A lot of things I didn’t like about the film actually have to do with what the film decides to include from the novel.

   The Ritual of Chud is a plot-device that, in itself, feels like they could have found a way to scrap its inclusion altogether. It’s basically a name given for a battle of wills, that if they believe they can defeat Pennywise, they can. Just do that. Instead, the film sees a lot of fluff and fat in trying to make sense out of something that doesn’t need that much explanation. They’re collecting artifacts and there’s rituals involved, and some of it may have been necessary to the story King wanted to tell, but it muddies the waters whereas its predecessor was straightforward and simple.

   And now, … I think they could have scrapped the Henry Bowers character altogether. The characters adds nothing to the film that couldn’t have easily been worked around, and had they removed it, the film’s run-time of 169 minutes (over a half hour longer than the first film) would have been tighter and more concise, whereas, in its current state, it feels a little bloated and disorganized.

   Like its predecessor, It Chapter Two is a highlight reel of memorable moments when it comes to Pennywise wreaking havoc, bolstered by special-effects and demented imagery. The film doesn’t pull punches and isn’t afraid to rip a child apart if the story calls for it (what bravery!).

   The tone of the film is a balancing act that isn’t very graceful. The first film wasn’t afraid to throw in humor, whether it be the “scary door” scene or Pennywise dancing around and harassing his prey. This film, on the other-hand, takes it to another level, so much so it almost takes us back to the later years of A Nightmare on Elm Street, with references to movies like King’s The Shining and Carpenter’s The Thing, cameo appearances, and meta-humor. I wouldn’t say the film entirely loses itself, but deeply serious and emotional moments being followed by b-movie horror-comedy makes for a stew with conflicting tastes. One bite sweet, one bite savory.

   When I left the theater after watching the film, the best short-sweet summary of my thoughts I could come up with was – It Chapter Two is every bit as good an adaptation as It Chapter One but of a significantly inferior source material. It doesn’t check-off all the boxes for what I thought, but I think it’s a fair assessment. The film has heart and has a vision, and plenty of good moments, but I think it’s excess and lack of restraint keeps it from climbing high on the Nightmare Deck list and from measuring up to its predecessor. It was true what they said, as it turns out…

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0