It feels like a very short two years ago that the 2017 remake of Stephen Kings It hit the big screen. I wonder how many of us at the time expected it to be as huge as it was? After release, the film very quickly became the highest grossing horror movie of all time, seemingly satisfying the critics just as much the audiences by finding itself on many a ‘Top Ten of the Year’ list both online and in print. Almost immediately plans were put into action to film the second half of King’s sprawling 1986 novel. I, for one, was very much aboard the hype train.
Set twenty seven years after the events of Chapter One, It Chapter Two brings both the audience and the original members of the Losers’ Club back to Derry to keep the promise that they made to one another three decades ago, destroy Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) once and for all. The child killing force has returned, and only they can band together to stop it.
With their memories faded the longer they had been away from their hometown, the likes of Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader) and Eddie (James Ransone) and Ben (Jay Ryan) face the task of remembering and coming terms with their past traumas, along with finding the strength and belief to come together and be single willed enough to rid Pennywise of his fear feeding powers.
Unsurprisingly, my likes and dislikes of It Chapter Two are pretty much identical to the likes and dislikes that I expressed for its 2017 predecessor. In my opinion, the magic and power of this story lies in the human connection and engagement with characters, not in the cinematic terror that its antagonist generates. This new adult cast brings another enjoyable element to the characters we last saw in childhood, and once again I found myself more invested in the moments in between jump scares than in the jump scares themselves.
Here’s the thing. It by its very nature works best on a metaphorical level, with themes of childhood trauma and overcoming fear extremest interesting ones to ponder. Where Chapter Two fails slightly in my opinion is in dedicating far too much time to horror set pieces that have little to no stakes. Faced with giving equal time to an already large cast of central characters, the film proceeds as a back to back to back to back set of horror sequences that all end with a classic “WAIT YOU’RE NOT REAL” realisation. There is only so long you can hold a viewer’s engagement when they aren’t sure what is dangerous and what is not.
Time spent doing this results in the film being far, far too long. Clocking in at just under three hours, you start to feel every single minute about a third of the way through. It feels harsh to say it, but some moments in this film are really just kind of boring. This is something you definitely cannot say about Chapter One. By the time hour three comes around, there is certainly a sense of satisfaction that this entire two year long cinematic saga has been wrapped up neatly, but for me, the ninety suspect minutes either side of a strong beginning and a rewarding ending are not quite enough to make Chapter Two a triumph.
One element of the film that absolutely cannot criticise is the strong and varied performances of its aged up cast. The casting folks behind the scenes have done an exceptional job matching up these adult actors with their 2017 child counterparts, in some cases it verges on eery!
In my original It review I championed Amy Adams for the role of adult Beverly, but I think we can all agree that Jessica Chastain is no disappointment. She picks up where Sophia Lillis left off in an expert fashion, the young and mature iterations of the character share much more than just simple colouring. The same can be said for James Ransone as adult Eddie, his adopted and shared mannerisms with young Jack Dylan Grazer are extraordinary.
Far and away the star of the show, for me anyway, is Bill Hader as trash mouth Richie. Now a standup comedian, the character is the source of the majority of the narrative’s comic relief, and Hader is obviously very at home in that sense. He does so much more with the character than simple humour though, and some of the film’s biggest revelations and poignant moments are provided by both Hader and Finn Wolfhard in flashback scenes.
Those who fell in love with the child cast back in 2017 will be pleased to hear that the group feature much more prominently in Chapter Two than I was expecting. Their scenes give even more texture and context to Chapter One, and it’s wonderful to see the old gang back together in between and alongside their adult counterparts.
In a strange way, it feels like Bill Skarsgard takes something of a backseat in this sequel. As the narrative ramps up towards a crazy town ending, we get to experience less of the truly creepy, smaller touches that made him so good in the first, and instead get more and more big, insane CGI stuff that just doesn’t really do it for me at all. Of course, there are more effective jump scares than you can count, but ultimately Pennywise just doesn’t have as big an impact as he did in 2017.
Overall, I have to say that It Chapter Two doesn’t quite feel like the expertly crafted package that Chapter One was, but on balance there is probably enough there to please fans of the 2017 predecessor. It’s way too long, with a repetitive middle section that will test even the most patient of viewers, but you will walk away from the cinema feeling satisfied with the closure that is provided. Not a home run, but also not a foul ball.