Stephen King has been the go-to person for horror both on the page and on screen for well over 40 years. Just when you think his influence is going to wane, along comes a movie like 2017’s IT that reminds people how effective his work can be when adapted by the right filmmakers.
The book IT was split almost evenly between the younger and adult versions of the gang known as The Losers, so it was inevitable that IT: Chapter Two would come along, given the success of the first film. Taking place 27 years later, the film follows the grown-up Losers — Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) — when they are called back to Derry, Maine, by Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) after Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) re-emerges from the sewers.
Mike has spent his adulthood obsessively trying to figure out how to get rid of Pennywise once and for all, while the rest of the group has managed to somewhat put their childhood trauma behind them. All of it comes rushing back upon their return, and Mike challenges each of them to do their part to end the scourge of the scary clown.
The first film had one big thing working for it that is limited in the sequel. The ‘80s nostalgia and group of kids banding together to fight a supernatural being played much the same card as the Netflix show Stranger Things, especially given the presence of actor Finn Wolfhard in both. The perceived innocence and precociousness of the kids lent that film a feeling that Chapter Two can’t replicate, even though it relies somewhat heavily on flashbacks to the kids.
Another unintended consequence of the transition from childhood to adulthood is that Pennywise doesn’t come across as scary anymore. He and the weird waking nightmares he creates are creepy, to be sure, but everything about him is too strange to be frightening. As the film reaches its third hour — more on that in a second — the only natural reaction to the craziness and mayhem on screen is laughter, even when it’s not intended.
Director Andy Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman were apparently given carte blanche after the first film made more than $700 million worldwide, and to say they take advantage is an understatement. They spend significant time alone with each major character, an idea that may have seemed good in theory but is deadly in practice. Clocking in at 2 hours and 49 minutes, the film is much too long to be effective. A movie like this needs to build up tension, and by letting the plot breathe so much, the filmmakers let all the air out of Pennywise’s menacing balloons.
The cast winds up being much better than the material as a whole. Much like Sophia Lillis was as Beverly in the first film, Chastain is the best thing about the sequel. McAvoy gets to try on yet another accent – with a stutter, to boot — and is hit-and-miss at it. Hader and Ransone are great as comic relief, while Mustafa — aka the Old Spice guy — is given a one-note role that doesn’t do him any favors.
If they were going to tell the story in full, there was no getting around focusing on adult characters in IT: Chapter Two. But the filmmakers made the change in the story worse by indulging in every storytelling whim they wanted, whether it was warranted or not.