Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Bill Skarsgård
Mustering the courage to confront childhood trauma follows these characters through their journey in this much-anticipated sequel. For normal people that trauma could be toxic relationships or painful moments, instead, these protagonists have to come to grips with the clown that haunted them resurfacing.
As the only member of the Losers Club to stay in Derry, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) hears of suspicious deaths that could be related to the return of Pennywise the clown. Mike calls upon Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) to commit to the vow they made as children, which was to come back if It reappeared.
Throughout this review, it might be weird that there’s more negative to say than positive with a film this high of a rating. Overall, I enjoyed the experience and the big swing being attempted by the filmmakers but it does have a bevy of storytelling issues to unpack, especially in the way the film utilizes its characters. The story follows what happened in the first It, which received acclaim from critics and became a financial success worldwide. The first film was able to capture childhood in a beautiful way and how each kid confronts their fear. To follow up that film, an incredible cast came together to portray those characters as adults and that stands out as one of the highlights. The casting of James Ransone as an older Jack Dylan Grazer appears almost unsettlingly perfect and the film knows it. Stars like McAvoy, Chastain, and Hader bring the intrigue and they all provided their great talents to the adult iteration of their characters. A tremendous cast that did not get much to do.
One of the larger narrative mistakes this film makes revolves around not letting the audience care much about these characters as adults because they wanted to continue the glory of the younger cast. There were moments in the first film where the kids separated and that gap in time did not hold any importance. It Chapter Two goes into flashback mode for nearly every character to go over every painstaking detail of what happened within those hours. It results in just more sequences where Pennywise scares them and they run away. Part of me sympathizes with the choice because what might scare someone as a child might not have the same impact as an adult. Unfortunately, the film sets up that there’s still a strong fear these characters have for what Pennywise did to them, which the film does not explore.
The runtime of this film came at an unexpected 169 minutes, nearly the length of two horror films in their contemporary construction. Even with that, It Chapter Two had excellent pacing. I didn’t feel it drag at any point, but it was disappointing with all that time, Mike simply served as an exposition machine. Every other character except the one that happens to be African-American gets to have their traumas revisited and have their own sequences while Mike simply just gets to sit there and tell everyone important backstory. A character that stayed behind all of those years, while everyone else went off to live their lives. Mike remained in a place where he faced awful racism just so he could confront any reoccurrence of Pennywise, and he’s given no actual throughline, which provides a real weak spot to the emotional resonance the story attempts to convey. There’s much that could have been cut to give Mike something of an emotional throughline.
Navigating the story told in the book presents no easy feat and I give director Andy Muschiettti credit for taking elements that would not have worked on screen and left it on the page. Having only heard of some of the events that transpire in the book, it was a wise decision to exclude certain elements and not bring them onto the silver screen. What did make it to the film was scare sequence after scare sequence that loses a bit of its heft along the way but still maintained being entertainingly fun. Frustratingly, the characters are meant to come together and they vow to take on the monster together but then arbitrarily need to find an individual object and thus need to split up. That leads to the individual scare sequences bolstered by the creative production and creature design. These moments are when I realized that I would appreciate the film more for the individual scare sequences rather than the entire narrative.
Bill Skarsgard, once again, weirdly terrifies me in this film because he can create such unsettling faces while also not being scary at all. This iteration of Pennywise seems like such a goof and I love every second he appears on screen. From his voicework to all of the monsters he contorts into, the use of the clown remains the biggest highlight of the film and probably the most important. While it gets the clown right, the way the film concludes becomes quite puzzling because it seems to go against everything that occurred to the characters from the first film. Pennywise represents fear and how it impacts the individual, but the way this story ultimately concludes does leave a muddled message about what the clown meant to all of them.
For all of its faults, I really enjoyed the experience because of the clown, but also because of Bill Hader’s injection of great comedy. There were some genuinely hilarious moments throughout the film and the climax of the story gets so ridiculous that it was hard for me not to enjoy. It Chapter Two delivered some thrills but at the expense of cohesive storytelling.