It really doesn’t seem like only two years ago that the cinematic version of Stephen King’s “It” broke records in its opening weekend and cemented itself as a new modern classic…wow, that’s a lot of “its”. Anyways, it’s been almost two years to the day and now we finally get the second half of this adaptation completing a duology of horror films focusing on the Losers Club and their crusade to defeat the evil Pennywise once and for all. One of the most anticipated horror sequels in recent memory, “It: Chapter 2” is meant to cover the second half of King’s immortal novel as the members of the Losers Club return to Derry to face the literal and figurative demons of their past and present. As the official kickoff film of fall 2019 and a sequel that fans have anxiously waited for 24 months to experience let’s see how well this second chapter lives up to the hype. This is my review of “It: Chapter 2”.
“It: Chapter 2” is set in 2016 as Pennywise aka It (Bill Skarsgård) returns to Derry, Maine to begin a new cycle of terror after being defeated by the Losers Club 27 years earlier. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only member of the club who has remained in Derry into adulthood and thus has maintained his memories of It. As he begins to realize Pennywise has returned he calls the other members of the club, Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Eddies Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) into action to complete the blood pact they made to take on Pennywise again if he ever returned. After reuniting, the Losers Club members begin to regain memories of the summer of 1989 as flashbacks featuring the child actors from the first film sheds more light on their relationships, secrets, and experiences with It. Eventually the group discovers an ancient Native American ritual that could help them defeat It once and for all.
The first “It” movie wasn’t really a masterpiece, but it was a fun, effectively creepy and tightly built genre piece that offered a lot in terms of substance and pacing. While the sequel effectively builds on the foundation its predecessor established, it also takes a few steps back. At almost three hours long (two hours and fifty minutes to be exact) this follow-up is over half an hour longer than the first film and yet it still feels like it doesn’t really have enough time or focus to tell the story it wants to present. My primary issue with “It: Chapter 2” is a lack of cohesive storytelling when compared to the original. The attempts to delve into the inner demons and individual stories of each grown-up Losers Club member just don’t feel a well presented or as smooth as they did in the original film and, quite honestly, where the original had the advantage of focusing on children against evil, thus providing commentary on innocence and making the danger feel that much more real, the same idea applied to adults just doesn’t feel as intriguing since we see this setup a lot. In fact, the flashbacks of moments from 1989 that happened off-screen in the original are more interesting than what we see from the adults and it often feels like this sequel leans too heavily on these flashbacks to keep the viewer invested.
That’s not to say “It: Chapter 2” is a mess because it’s not. In a lot of ways it’s still a very good horror movie even if I personally found the original to be a tighter story with more relatable and memorable versions of the Losers Club characters. As I said, the sequel has its own merits and does effectively build on the previous film by exploring these characters 27 years later with relevant themes all its own including sexual identity, the pain of loss, and the ripple effect of our past along with the enduring theme from the original film about the lingering effects of fear and regret. While the story might drag at times and the narrative structure is imperfect, it’s nice to see the Losers Club each come face to face with the demons of their bygone childhoods and force themselves to defeat these fears once and for all in order to end Pennywise for good. The idea of adults facing the regrets and demons of the past and coming to peace with their flawed childhoods is a relatable idea that, even if you haven’t read King’s book, gives justification and purpose to exploring the Losers Club’s lives years later. After all, how many times do we get to see the aftereffects of a horrific experience in a horror franchise with such human results? The tone of the film is also fun an energetic while also having a foreboding sense of dread. Like the first movie, “It: Chapter 2” flawlessly blends effective comedy and lightheartedness with the characters’ dread over having to deal with genuine fear and very real consequences to their failures. One moment you’ll be sidesplitting laughing and the next you’ll be feeling sorry for a realistically innocent victim continuing the first movie’s tendency to play with your emotions from start to finish.
It helps that the acting sells the emotional depths of this film with James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ronsone and Andy Bean all playing adult versions of the Losers Club to perfection and providing surprisingly consistent portrayals when compared to their young counterparts. It should be no surprise to anyone who has read early reviews that Bill Hader gets the most praise from me as THE standout performer of the picture as an adult Richie Tozier who manages to provide both the best jokes and the best acting of anyone in the film’s main cast. Hader injects energy and humor into every moment he’s on screen and brings the rest of the cast to another level when he’s with the main group. Even the returning child actors, many de-aged due to their growth since starring in the original film, bring great performances to the screen although I will admit that there is a noticeable drop in quality and commitment on their part compared to their first go around. They’re not the stars of the show anymore and in a strange way you can feel their awareness of that fact. It’s more like they’re giving it 80% opposed to the 100% they brought to the table with the 2017 feature, but they still provide great performances nonetheless.
Then, of course, there is Pennywise who has a smaller, but still vital role in this sequel. While we see less of Bill Skarsgård than in the original film (or at least it FEELS like we see less of him due to It taking other forms) he still owns every second of his screen time making Pennywise a terrifying and fun villain to behold. Skarsgård is clearly having a ball getting back into the makeup and exploring a new chapter in Pennywise’s chaotic murder spree. As with the first film, he charms the audience as much as his victims with every line and facial expression and it’s his unassuming demeanor that makes him such an intimidating creature. While “It: Chapter 2” is relatively short on legitimate scares compared to the first film, it’s when we get to see Skarsgård let loose and explore the full depths of It’s dark psyche and motivations that the true terror of this story takes hold, especially as Pennywise digs into his bag of tricks to force the Losers Club to revisit their demons and face their fears all over again. The film does try to bring back the secondary villain of the first film, Henry Bowers played at an older age by Teach Grant, but he proves to be largely insignificant even with the idea that the Losers Club is being forced to face their past. Pennywise was the only villain this movie needed, evidenced by just how effective he is with limited screen time regardless of the form he decides to take.
“It: Chapter 2” may be inferior to the first movie but it’s still a solid film especially by today’s standards. It might far from the best horror movie of 2019 by any stretch of the imagination, but serves as a worthy and insightful continuation and conclusion to the 2017 smash hit that started it all. Expanding on the stories and personalities of the Losers Club and even delving into significantly more relevant demons to modern times, “It: Chapter 2” may not be as smooth or fun as its predecessor but it’s a strong sequel that provides satisfying closure. Despite the lack of cohesive storytelling and a narrative that drags on maybe too long, “It: Chapter 2’s” strong cast and emotional core help drive to its exhilarating conclusion with a returning villain who continues to outshine most of the main cast even with adults in the roles, Bill Hader being the exception this time around. It might be a bit underwhelming to some, but for me “It: Chapter 2” is an acceptably fun, mildly ambitious and perfectly serviceable sequel and another great addition to the 2010s renaissance of legitimately good Stephen King adaptations.