You can’t go home again — or maybe you just shouldn’t unless you can make a better movie about it.
So it goes with Andy Muschietti’s It Chapter Two, which thrusts viewers right back into the storyline of the first film, albeit 27 years on. The Losers Club members are all grown up and settled into their lives, (mostly) far away from their traumatic childhoods. When Mike Hanlon (played as an adult by Isaiah Mustafa and in flashbacks by Chosen Jacobs), the only one from the group remaining in Derry, Maine, calls to tell the others that the monster they fought in 1989 is back and spilling blood – mostly children’s, which it still finds tastiest – they don’t remember anything but agree to keep their childhood promise to return and fight it.
When the gang reunites over Chinese food and copious drinks, their now-fuzzy memories start coming into focus. As with the first film and its charming, impeccably chosen cast of pre-teens, the people are the best part of this second chapter. In arguably the film’s strongest scene, the group, in particular the peevish, hypochondriacal Eddie (James Ransome/Jake Dylan Grazer) and now-comedian Richie (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard) fall back into their old banter over dinner, proving they have just as much chemistry now as when they were young. This scene and several others are laugh-out-loud funny, quick and expertly handled by both the writers and the cast — which makes the long stretches of silly scares and saccharine character development that follows a little perplexing.
Of course, the evil clown/interdimensional world eater Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, delightful once again) is there too, and he makes himself known in a variety of creative ways, ranging from the merely grotesque (fortune cookies spilling out spider legs and eyeballs) to the truly disturbing (an old woman who suddenly becomes a lurching, leprous fiend). The monster certainly has fun torturing the group, but after so many instances when It could have easily dispatched its hunters, you wonder whether It just wants to be a part of their club, too.
There are plenty of flashbacks, but instead of reactivating our love for the first film and its charming children, these segments feel too long and suffer from hokey horrors, like a giant Paul Bunyan that’s more ridiculous than scary. And a few attempts to bridge storylines, like the crush Ben (Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor) harbors for Beverly (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis), are cloying. It worked well because viewers could inhabit the imaginative space of the kids’ experiences, but revisiting them as adults in Chapter Two, a bit more is needed for their tribulations to feel authentic – and authentically scary.
Despite its swollen, near-three-hour run time, the plot fits poorly onto the frame of the film. One character makes a strange decision to abandon the group’s plan with no real consequences. A Native American subplot (a favorite of source novel author Stephen King’s) is only half-baked and distractingly animated. Other elements, like the aforementioned love story and the inability of Bill (James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell) to forgive himself for his brother’s death, are pushed into our faces again and again (and again).
One 15-minute fight sequence near the end, featuring some truly great special effects, did have me on the edge of my seat, but for the majority of the movie, I was just waiting for it to be over. When the Losers finally do face It down, the results are a bit of a head-scratcher. Is this really how you destroy a millennia-old embodiment of evil?
On top of these flaws, the film’s previews unfortunately spoil its best scares, and even a stellar cast and a great cameo by King can’t keep it from treading water for the bulk of its run time. Despite a few notable highlights, It Chapter Two mostly just flops.