2 out of 5 stars.
There is such a thing as being too ambitious. It’s a line that “It,” the 2017 film based on part of Stephen King’s classic horror novel, dances along but never fully crosses. But the second half of the story, “It Chapter 2,” is a nearly three-hour long story that tries to do too much with its characters, but never feels epic or scary. Rather, it’s dull, overlong, and frequently confusing, to the point where the real emotional drama facing these characters we’ve grown so fond of never hits like it should.
Andy Muschietti returns to direct the second part, which is set 27 years after the first film. The Loser’s Club has grown up and left Derry—all but one member, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa). They each have achieved immense professional success but all have their personal troubles—and the further they have gotten away from Derry, the more they forgot about their childhood there, their friends, and It. But when evidence suggests that Pennywise (played once again by Bill Skarsgård) has come back to Derry, Mike reaches out to the Loser’s Club and reminds them of their promise to come back and stop him if It ever returned. The group gathers in Derry and their memories slowly begin to return, and they realize that they have to stand together and confront their past trauma if they are going to stop Pennywise once and for all.
A major part of the first film’s appeal was its young cast, who were all funny, endearing, and had terrific chemistry. When it came to casting the adult versions of those characters, the filmmakers really got it spot on. They both embody the personalities of those characters that were established in the first movie, and resemble their younger counterparts. In fact, Andy Bean and Wyatt Jess Oleff, who play older and younger Stanley Uris, truly look like they could be the exact same person. The cast is impressive and they all turn in solid performances across the board: James McAvoy is Bill, Jessica Chastain is Beverly, Jay Ryan is Ben, James Ransone is Eddie, and Bill Hader is Richie. In fact, Hader’s performance is the standout of the group; he begins the film as a wise-cracking comedian, but ends up undergoing the most character growth out of all them by the end of the film. But the adult characters bring a different, darker, and more dramatic tone to this movie. The first film, despite its scary moments, still had a carefree spirit of fun about it, thanks to the young cast. But now these characters are older, disillusioned, and haunted by their past. That’s not to say there aren’t still some more lighthearted moments—brought to you mostly by Richie and Eddie—but the material has grown with the characters, and is much more reflective and emotionally-driven.
Having said that, the younger versions of these characters are still very much a part of this story, with the actors from the first film reprising their roles in flashbacks. But it’s as if the filmmakers knew that the young cast was such a big part of the first movie’s appeal, and wanted to cram them into this film as much as possible. The vast majority of the flashbacks—which largely concern the individual characters having scary confrontations—are completely unnecessary, serving only to slow down the film without telling us anything we didn’t already know.
While the first film wasn’t terrifying, it still had scary moments, and did a great job building tension in each scene. That is almost entirely gone from this movie. A lot of that has to do with the action blurring the line between fantasy and reality with no rhyme or reason. Sometimes, characters have a confrontation with Pennywise, and it’s very real. Other times, it turns out to be all in their head. But this back and forth is confusing and ultimately undermines each scene; after all, if it isn’t real, what is there to be scared of? This film does feature some deliriously weird creatures that are great to see, but even then there’s a camp factor to them that makes them more comical than frightening. Some scenes, meanwhile, fall into that terrible trap of being gross, but not scary. One of the best aspects of the film continues to be Skarsgård’s Pennywise. He easily goes between subtle and over-the-top, but no matter what, he’s a menacing presence who just always seems to be there.
The action all culminates in a finale that relies more on spectacle than anything else, although it does give each character the opportunity to reconcile their past with their present. To say it isn’t a satisfying conclusion isn’t exactly correct. We spend ample time with each character, and the film ultimately does manage to tie all these different threads together nicely. But for a film that boasts such a great cast, stunning effects, and great sets and cinematography, it’s disappointing to see a bloated story that clearly needed to have been thought through a bit more. It tries to be too big, too epic, and loses a lot in the process.
Runtime: 169 minutes. Rated R.