IT Chapter Two is, in many respects, a very different film from its predecessor. Getting into the vibe this time around takes a little while if you're expecting more of the same. Once you settle in, the movie's value is gradually revealed. Even if it's nowhere near as overtly scary as the first chapter, what the story gets at thematically is an effective fulfillment of what has already been established.
Twenty-seven years after the Losers Club vanquished him, evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) has reared his head in Derry, Maine again. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls the rest of the gang – Bev (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Stanley (Andy Bean) – and asks them to come home to fight him off once and for all.
IT Chapter One was about these characters as children, discovering what the scary clown was doing in their town and trying to outrun his threat. Childhood fears were played upon, giving the film a direct pathway into the psyche of any viewer who was terrified of something growing up. Watching Pennywise terrorize the kids provided more than a few jolts.
The sequel is less about the clown and more about healing from trauma. Each of the characters has to find a way to resolve their own personal issue. Pennywise still threatens them physically but his true menace is as a representation of the things from their formative years that they have long tried to avoid. In other words, IT Chapter Two isn't scary in the same way as the original. Gory and creepy things happen – and happen more often -- yet they don't have the same nerve-rattling impact. The true horrors here are psychological. Pennywise's attacks are directly tied to the individual traumas suffered by the Losers Club members. Frequent flashbacks, using the young actors from Chapter One, aid in conveying that concept.
The film also seems to take a more tongue-in-cheek approach, as evidenced by a couple of star cameos, including one that yanks you right out of the movie. (You'll know it when you see it.) There is an abundance of humor, in the form of wisecracks and quips from Richie and Eddie. Scenes meant to elicit a laugh accomplish that mission, although the excess of jokes waters down the terror somewhat. And using Juice Newton's “Angel of the Morning” as a musical cue during a moment that's supposed to be horrific just pointlessly undermines the event.
IT Chapter Two is faithful to the tone of Stephen King's writing in a way we rarely see, which may be viewed as a negative by some viewers and a positive by others. His books often take their plots to a borderline absurd extreme. His style works on the page because he's asking you to imagine the unimaginable. When visualized, though, things can intermittently feel slightly goofy. To cite one example, there's a scene in which the characters open fortune cookies and find bugs with baby faces and crawling eyeballs inside. That thought is disturbing in the mind. On the screen, it's entertaining but perhaps too outlandish to truly make you fearful. As someone who's read several of King's books and admired that go-for-broke quality, I appreciated what director Andy Muschetti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman have done on this count, even as I missed the non-stop intensity of Chapter One.
Without fail, the actors are excellent. All of them make clear how the characters they portray have endured some sort of abuse or tragedy that has wounded them. This is where IT Chapter Two shines the most, and why the film is worth seeing. The story is an examination of how being hurt as a child can leave one emotionally scarred well into adulthood. The cast makes that idea come across with emotional honesty. Bill Hader, in particular, does strong work as Richie, a guy whose sarcastic nature hides devastating inner pain. In the end, everyone has to find a way to heal themselves if they want to beat Pennywise.
Visually, IT Chapter Two is impressive, delivering some of the freakiest sights you could ever see in a movie. At nearly three hours, the picture never feels too long because there's perpetually something happening. Despite Chapter One being stronger, the two halves of this adaptation combine into a compelling horror take on what trauma does to a person and how important it is to never stop trying to recover.
out of four
IT Chapter Two is rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material . The running time is 2 hours and 49 minutes.