Anyone who’s read Stephen King’s 1986 novel or watched the 1990 miniseries will tell you that the best parts of It revolve around the Losers during their childhood. The material involving the adult Losers is where King started writing himself into a corner. By only focusing on the kid Losers in his 2017 film version, director Andy Muschietti turned in a consistently fun and creepy horror story that lived up to its promise. With half a book left to adapt, though, it seemed like Muschietti might’ve shot himself in the foot going into It Chapter Two. Now that the most interesting part of the story has been told, does Muschietti’s follow-up sink or somehow stay afloat?
In some respects, Muschietti’s interpretation succeeds where the source material fell short. Many of the goofier aspects are omitted, or at least given a welcome update. The screenplay by Gary Dauberman also adds a few nice touches that give our characters new dimensions. We very well could’ve gotten a sequel on par with its 2017 predecessor if only Muschietti spent more time in the editing room. Given the length of King’s book, 1,000+ pages, it’s not surprising that Chapter Two is just under three hours. Unlike Avengers: Endgame or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, however, this movie could’ve been cut down to a crisp two hours without losing anything crucial.
Chapter One’s charm lied in its gifted cast of child stars, who return for several flashbacks here. Their adult counterparts share instant chemistry as well and everyone is well-suited for their roles. Jessica Chastain as Beverly was everyone’s dream casting choice and James McAvoy once again proves he can do little wrong as Bill. Interestingly, the most complex character this time around is the trash-talking Richie, played by Bill Hader, who’s running from more than typical childhood fears. Ben (Jay Ryan) has significantly slimmed down since his Chunk phase, although Eddie (James Ransone) still finds himself under a nagging woman’s thumb. Upon receiving a call from Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the Losers are drawn back to Derry where Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) has awakened from hibernation to chown down on more children.
Chapter Two is at its best when the Losers are all together, whether they’re cracking jokes or staring evil in the face. Regrettably, the Losers split up for a good portion of the second act, causing the narrative to drag. For almost half an hour, the film becomes a series of episodic misadventures that just go around in circles. Some subplots have zero payoff, such as Bill’s marriage and Pennywise’s encounter with a gay couple. The film also would’ve benefited from shuffling a few moments around. There’s a particularly chilling scene at a baseball game that would’ve made for a much stronger opening.
The scares are more hit and miss this time around as well. Chapter Two has almost double the budget of Chapter One, which you can tell from the abundance of computer-generated imagery. While the effects are a vast improvement from the miniseries, the CGI rarely looks authentic. Even when a creature has a cool design, you can see right through the illusion, which inevitably takes away from the terror. The film excels when it relies on Skarsgård’s charisma alone, not to mention Joan Gregson as a blood-curdling old lady. That darn CGI, however, can make the film feel less like a horror picture and more like an action flick.
While the pacing and effects hold Chapter Two back from being a great movie, it maintains the heart that made Chapter One so special. Even though the first film is barely two years old, this follow-up captures a sense of nostalgia that makes it seem as if we haven’t seen these characters in decades. This can be largely attributed to the cast, young and old, who never skip a beat. Although various problems from the book remain present, the tweaks Muschietti makes go a long way. It may not soar like a balloon, but it doesn’t sail into the sewer either.