“IT: Chapter Two” is as strong a follow-up as we were likely to get from author Stephen King’s weighty novel. The back half of the story is weaker than the first, both in the novel and the 1989 TV miniseries version.
Co-writer/director Andy Muschietti doesn’t entirely escape the meandering bloat of the source material (the running time clocks in at a butt-numbing 171 minutes) but he does deliver a stronger finale and maintains much of the gravitas and momentum of the first installment.
The sequel jumps ahead 27 years after the events of the previous movie. The supernatural killer clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, still creepy) has awakened from his slumber not only to feed, but also to exact revenge on the Losers Club, the seven children who cut his previous buffet of terror short.
Most of the Losers have left smalltown Derry, Maine for greener pastures. Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), still haunted by the murder of his younger brother, is a horror novelist famous for books with endings nobody likes; foul-mouthed Richie Tozier (a scene-stealing Bill Hader) is a successful stand-up comedian; overweight Ben Hanscomb (Jay Ryan) has blossomed into a studly architect; and hypochondriac risk assessor Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone, who gives Hader a run for his money) and fashion designer Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) have both married spouses reminiscent of their respective abusive parents.
Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) is the only one who seems to have found some domestic bliss; however, those familiar with the source material know it’s not going to last after the group receives phone calls from Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the only one who stayed behind in Derry, standing guard against Pennywise’s inevitable return.
It’s a blast (at first) when these characters re-unite, mainly because the actors playing the adult versions work so magnificently well together. Things take a turn almost immediately; Pennywise returns to torment them (and to eat a few more local children) while the Losers debate the urge to run versus sticking together for the fight.
That leads to a choppy, repetitive middle section that often meanders and a movie that can’t resist the urge to flashback to its protagonists’ youthful selves more times than it probably should have. While the adult cast is great (especially Hader and Ransone, who absolutely need to work together again) they’re often separated from one another and deprived of the opportunity to fully take the reigns and define their characters’ future incarnations.
Worse, Pennywise also seems somewhat muted as well, as the movie leans heavily into CGI monsters and some borderline slapstick moments of humor. In fact, there’s a lot of humor in Chapter Two, which lacks the near-omnipresent atmosphere of dread of its predecessor. Whether or not that is a good thing is a matter of personal taste.
Still, for all its rough edges, “IT: Chapter Two” is largely rewarding. Muschietti and co-writer Gary Dauberman deserve credit for adapting a 1,100 page novel with a divisive ending to the screen. They swing for the fences and connect more often than not.