Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Producer: Barbara Muschietti, Dan Lin, Roy Lee
Stars: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgard
27 years after defeating Pennywise, Ben Hanscom summons his childhood friends back to Derry to end the evil once and for all.
Box office whisperers probably read all sorts of things into the fact that ¡°It Chapter Two¡± grossed over 200 million worldwide dollars less than its predecessor, 2017¡¯s ¡°It¡± (review here). The Rotten Tomatoes drop from 86% for the first film to 63% for the second would seem to corroborate any conclusion that a quality dip kept disappointed moviegoers out of the theater for the follow-up.
Alternatively, one might theorize that the first film wasn¡¯t as big of a bowl-you-over hit as many think they remember. It¡¯s hard to believe so many people invested two and a quarter hours plus the price of admission in an epic horror adventure, supposedly came away thrilled, then suddenly said, ¡°nah, not interested¡± when it came time for the conclusion. A more sensible scenario suggests ¡°It¡± didn¡¯t impress everyone enough to warrant making a commitment to the nearly three-hour sequel.
I otherwise can¡¯t imagine why waffling word of mouth alone would cause audiences to turn away from Chapter Two when they turned out for Chapter One. From my vantage point, there¡¯s nothing dramatically different about the two films that someone who enjoyed one would avoid the other. Issues exist with ¡°It Chapter Two¡¯s¡± editing, overstuffing, and dubious fluctuations in tone. But ¡°It¡± had similar troubles. Warts and all, ¡°It Chapter Two¡± simply serves as a logical extension of the previous movie in terms of quality as well as story.
¡°It Chapter Two¡± doesn¡¯t get off on the wrong foot per se, but does stumble from the Achilles injury that trips it up every 10 minutes or so. Namely, the film has its work cut out in finding time to play with each person in its seemingly bottomless box of characters. Affording everyone equal attention, as well as finding opportune points to flip from one thread to another, prompts tempo to lurch or to limp on repeated occasions.
Since we¡¯re catching up with the Losers Club 27 years after we saw them send Pennywise into a sewer, a healthy chunk of Act One makes space for a long ¡°where are they now?¡± collage. Bill is a writer. Eddie still sweats the small stuff. Richie does standup comedy. Ben works as an architect. And Beverly finds herself locked in an abusive marriage. None of these stations in life are ¡°new¡± exactly, which makes this sequence partly redundant as it essentially affirms everyone merely became adult incarnations of their childhood selves.
Mind you, all of this excisable exposition comes after a seven-minute prologue spent dealing with someone whose only other appearance comes as a ghoul for four seconds. For a movie working with a longer than usual runtime, ¡°It Chapter Two¡± makes odd coverage choices with out of whack pacing priorities.
Immense improvement arrives when the friends reunite in Derry for a laidback Chinese dinner. Bill, Ben, Bev, and the non-Bs in their bunch play better when the actors get to work with and off of one another. It¡¯s easy to dial into the flash, bangs, and scares and only evaluate ¡°It¡± as a horror story. At its heart however, the film is really a fable about friendship. The camaraderie among the Losers Club members centers emotional engagement and their moments together always elevate atmosphere.
Richie and Eddie anchor that core with comic relief and what turns out to be genuine love for each other. Bill Hader and James Ransone have more screen time than anyone else, or at least seem to, but deservedly so. Hader slightly softens the harsh humor Finn Wolfhard had as Richie without losing Richie¡¯s irreverent edge. During the restaurant reunion specifically, Hader¡¯s jovial jabs melt everyone¡¯s icy faces of fear, including the audience¡¯s. Counteracting terror with joke-based entertainment stays his dominant skill for the entire movie.
On the other hand, director Andy Muschietti has a tendency to call for comedy when it isn¡¯t welcome, or worse, when it deflates tension completely. Richie and Eddie choosing between three doors while music highlights their head turns would be a less in-your-face example. But I¡¯m as baffled as everyone else by the utterly bizarre inclusion of ¡°Angel of the Morning,¡± far and away the most out of place needle drop in modern movie history. For the record though, I chuckled every time the running gag about Bill being terrible at writing endings came up, particularly when Stephen King repeats it in his cameo.
Maybe Muschietti just had his hands full juggling what to do with everyone. Mike probably draws the shortest straw. Isaiah Mustafa doesn¡¯t have much to do beyond filling in backstory and looking ominously worried all the time, although that can be excused by Mike having similarly limited responsibilities in the source novel. It¡¯s also strange to cast Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain for Bev when the role largely requires furious action over emoting, save for an occasional longing stare directed at one of her two love interests.
Even Richie gets caught up in ¡°where should I go and what should I do?¡± confusion. Richie twice decides to get out while the getting¡¯s good and abandon the entire situation outright. Each time he conveniently drags his feet just long enough to allow beats for other characters to catch up to his.
Effectively managing length is indeed ¡°It Chapter Two¡¯s¡± most confounding challenge. Muschietti, writer Gary Dauberman, and the editors no doubt ran themselves ragged deciding what stays and what goes. Yet some of their decisions can¡¯t be justified independent of their explanations.
A boy from the Chinese restaurant who appears in two other scenes could disappear into skinny air without the plot feeling an ill effect. Then again, that would leave Pennywise with one less piece of prey when his hunger is already underserved by scandalously limited appearances. Other than the aforementioned prologue, only one other scene shows the clown slaughtering a random kid in no way connected to the Losers Club. It¡¯s a strange scene because with his evil already well established, the only value in this one-off is a short shock. It seems someone noticed how little we see of Pennywise and said, ¡°since we¡¯re already slicing and dicing scenes in weird ways, let¡¯s sandwich in one more kill just for fun.¡±
While on the subject of scares, Muschietti seemingly studied at the James Wan school of cinematic theatrics, though that¡¯s not a bad thing if you appreciate flair with your frights. A couple of creeps are clich¨¦, like a mirror reflection scare or someone stabbed from behind and falling to the floor to reveal who really buried the blade.
But ¡°It Chapter Two¡± creates a ¡°Star Wars¡± cantina¡¯s worth of creative creature designs and noteworthy setpieces. Ghoulish hands grabbing Bill from a storm drain, a certain someone¡¯s rolling head going all Outpost 31, and whatever the weird mutated bats with crying baby faces are that come out of fortune cookies account for only some of the spooks certain to reappear in various nightmares.
While different whittling would have straightened storytelling to be succinct and more purposeful, what moments make it onscreen usually come with meaningful impact. Pennywise¡¯s receded presence hinders the fear factor, yet ¡°It Chapter Two¡± really resonates when human drama eclipses monster madness anyway. Themes of childhood ties and overcoming trauma provide the true punch while slight scares tie the strings on the glove. For the most part, ¡°It Chapter Two¡± digests as easily edible entertainment, and follows suit with the first film more often than it falls out of step.
Review Score: 75