After the financial success of the first It film, we must have known that we’d be getting a sequel – after all, it’s only half a story. IT Chapter Two picks up years later, with a cast of adults, but it treads many of the same beats – good character work and moderate frights, let down by a run-time that wants to do far too much.
27 years after the evil clown Pennywise’s (Bill Skarsgård) last reign of terror, the town of Derry is once again terrorised by his presence, as people start disappearing. The Losers’ Club, now adults who have gone their separate ways, receive a phone call from Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), calling them back to their hometown. As children, they swore that, if Pennywise ever returned, they would return too and ensure that they killed it – but, as Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of the club assemble, they are confronted with a Pennywise bearing a grudge, more powerful and sadistic than ever before.
We’ve a brand-new cast playing the older versions of the characters, and they really capture the mannerisms of the young actors
In my review of the first It film, I really praised the character work, and it is here that the sequel really excels too. We’ve a brand-new cast playing the older versions of the characters, and they really capture the mannerisms of the young actors (I’d give kudos particularly to James Ransone as Eddie, who both looks and acts like an older Jack Dylan Grazer). There’s a real dynamic between the group, which makes some of the quieter, more character-focused moments work really well in their own right (an early scene in a Chinese restaurant, as the group reunite for the first time, is a good example). Really, it’s a bizarre choice to keep them apart for so much of the film. And, if you miss the young actors, we do have some charming scenes featuring them too.
The acting is uniformly strong. I’m going to fall in line with all the other critics and single out Bill Hader for praise, as he contributes many of the film’s laughs but also proves his serious acting ability, but the entire ensemble is great (save Jay Ryan as the older Ben, whose only character trait is that he still has a crush on Beverly). The best performance is not one of the Losers, however, but rather Skarsgård – his Pennywise is the perfect mix between terrifying and hilarious, and he’s missed every moment he’s off-screen.
While Skarsgård’s Pennywise is scary, the film generally is not
We do have an issue here, though, for while Skarsgård’s Pennywise is scary, the film generally is not. Instead of using this new and crueller version of Pennywise to generate its horror, it relies very heavily on jump scares, and there are only so many times that something can suddenly appear in a film before it begins to lose its impact. This is particularly problematic given that many of these scares are connected to quite ropey CGI effects – the scene with Beverly returning to her old home and meeting an old lady (which appears in all the trailers) is creepy, but the ending CGI monster is not, and it diffuses the tension.
There are some deeper structural issues here too. The film, running at just under three hours, could have really benefited from some cropping – the ‘quest’ narrative in the second act gets repetitive quite quickly, and it could have ended two or three times before it did. In adapting the book, some major subplots are cut completely, and some are retained but slashed to such a degree that they’re hardly worth keeping anyway (Henry Bowers makes a reappearance). The film also opens with a horrific brutal murder, set up to have some plot relevance later on – of course, it doesn’t. Strong acting struggles to outweigh a scattershot and kitchen sink approach to plotting at times.
Come to this film more for the character drama than the horror, and you’ll probably enjoy it
I don’t want this review to give you the impression that IT Chapter Two is a bad film – it’s filled with strong performances, some good jokes and good frights, and Andy Muschietti’s direction is great – but it suffers from too many issues to be considered a great one. Come to this film more for the character drama than the horror, and you’ll probably enjoy it.