IT Chapter Two is one of those movies that gets by. It’s big, ambitious and ultimately satisfying but also spends a lot of time undoing any goodwill it builds or brings in from its great predecessor. This epic attempt to conclude Stephen King’s massive story speeds down a long road, losing potentially important parts along the way, yet more or less manages to stay together. Nearly every direct problem I have with the film can be contradicted with an instance where that miscalculation actually works.
So to put it simply before getting into all that, IT Chapter Two is nowhere near the success we saw with the first chapter. Whether the film ultimately works for you or not, that point seems hard to deny. And in a lot of ways, such a height probably was never in the cards. The first film lets you fall in love with a group of kids as they battle a monster they can barely comprehend along with their own individual adolescent pains. IT Chapter Two’s source material cannot allow such a winning combination. There is almost a good movie here about how the past informs your future, but it’s broken apart by flashbacks, a missing dynamic with its villain and a group of actors who lack chemistry, largely fail to embody their younger counterparts, and have to rush through their initial interactions with each other. (Yes, the film is almost three hours long, and yet the first ninety minutes feel edited and performed at high speeds.)
You can have a script that gives us reasons to fall for the grown up versions of these characters, or you can cast so they actually feel like those people twenty-seven years later. IT Chapter Two does neither. Most of the actors were chosen for their physical resemblance which only works on the surface. None of the adults really sound or feel familiar short of Bill Hader’s Ritchie and James Ransone’s Eddie, who unsurprisingly steal the film. I like what Isaiah Mustafa’s doing with his borderline manic interpretation of Mike, but that’s also a benefit of Mike not being very well drawn in the first place. The rest are almost like new characters.
And then there’s Pennywise. This new take on the character worked in the first chapter because he made sense paired against a bunch of scared kids. Having this particular design battle adults feels odd and the film doesn’t seem to know what to do with him as a result. It feels like he’s missing even though I suspect his screen time is around the same as part one. On the other hand, there is a conversation between Pennywise and a little girl that is miles better than the similar seduction scene we saw play out with Georgie.
IT Chapter Two doesn’t go far into Pennywise’s cosmic nature, which is understandable but confuses why he cares so much about getting the Losers back in Derry. Once they show up, he spooks them a bunch but doesn’t appear to hold much real power. I found Pennywise more interesting than scary in the first film and he remains that here, but rather than offering a pleasing enigma, he comes off more like a problem the filmmakers could not solve. That’s not the worst thing in the world since this one is not really about Pennywise at all, but it hits with disappointment all the same given the anticipation raised by part one.
The propulsive energy remains but the action thrills are mostly replaced with great comedy. Ironically, Richie’s humor often grates as he gets stuck swearing incredulously instead of actually making jokes. It’s a fair trade though, as he offers the film its emotional center. The real humor of IT Chapter Two comes from bizarre joke edits and sudden ironic needle drops. These moments are bizarre, big swings and almost all of them work, if only to remind you that you’re watching something that’s not afraid to go a little weird with it. I wish they’d gone weirder though.
If you liked the CG face-warping business in the first one, you’ll be in hog heaven here as almost every iteration of Pennywise now comes with those asymmetrical googly eyes. The biggest visual woes, however, come via awkwardly de-aged child actors in flashbacks, which do a much better job taking you out of the film at emotional moments than slightly older-looking actors would have. The over reliance on CG feels indicative of the film’s problems overall. Nothing seems all that real or threatening here. There is some neat horror invention, but so much of it feels missed in execution.
And yet, it all somehow manages to come together for the big third act. I found myself both thrilled and emotionally tethered to these characters in ways that eluded me for most of the running time. You might leave IT Chapter Two buzzing with excitement as a result. But in the long run, I don’t see many eager returns to modern day Derry.