for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material
Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgård, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone
Warner Bros. on
It is sometimes said that there's no such thing as "too much of a good thing." In the case of Stephen King's It, that may not be true. Clocking in at a bloated 170 minutes, It Chapter Two is a full 35 minutes longer than Chapter One and the length becomes a stumbling block to the film's success. Where director Andy Muschietti's vision for the first movie was crisp and creepy - an on-target adaptation of the novel that recaptured both its supernatural terror and childhood bonding elements - his take on Chapter Two is less sure; at times, the film tends toward meandering and self-indulgence.
Length, although an unavoidable issue, is not Chapter Two's central problem. It, adapted from the first half of King's 1100-page book, blended horror with coming-of-age elements. It was a gory, frightful take on Stand by Me and worked in large part because of the chemistry among the seven members of the "Losers Club." One could easily have called It "a teen movie infused with horror tropes." In Chapter Two, which transpires 27 years later in the town of Derry, Maine, the children are in their early 40s. They have also been separated for decades. Not only do they struggle to rebuild the bonds they forged a quarter-century earlier but they do so as adults.
The narrative is straightforward. When Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) returns to Derry after a 27-year absence, the seven people who defeated him in 1989 - Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) - must reunite with the goal of bringing his reign of terror and dismemberment to an end. They are haunted not only by the sadistic creature they call "It" but by their own personal demons. Flashbacks and dream sequences allow the young actors who previously played the characters to participate in Chapter Two but the main storyline follows the adults as they collect the "talismans" needed for a ritual of banishment.
Although the movie is classified as "horror," Chapter Two is light on terror. With elements of his backstory revealed, Pennywise is more of a conventional movie monster than a mysterious supernatural presence. When it comes to pure dread, nothing in this movie matches the early moments of It, when young Georgie approached the storm sewer opening. Chapter Two has two standout scenes of this sort - one (which appears in trailers) involves a house of mirrors while the other involves a little girl wandering around under bleachers. Jump-scares are few and far between. Gary Dauberman's screenplay incorporates elements of black comedy. This makes the material perfect for actor Bill Hader, whose electrifying performance is by far the best thing that Chapter Two has to offer. The other high-profile actors, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, find their stars dimmed by Hader's nova.
Some of the most effective sequences in Chapter Two are those that feature return of the actors from Chapter One (Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, Sophia Lillis as Beverly, Finn Wolfhard as Richie, Chosen Jacobs as Mike, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben, Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, and Wyatt Oleff as Stanley). The importance of those performers to the overall success of the first film becomes evident in those scenes. Even though the characters are present throughout the new production, the adults don't capture the viewer's sympathy with the same strength that the children did.
In horror, it's easier to build a story than it is to end one, and Chapter Two re-enforces this maxim. The film's climax concludes the nearly five-hour, two-movie saga but does so without much in the way of creativity or surprises. Special effects and action take precedence over narrative coherence, although that's perhaps what viewers today expect. The ending of the movie is faithful to that of the book in generalities but not specifics. When one considers how badly many of King's novels have been bastardized in the translation from written page to celluloid, It stands out as one of the rare exceptions that has attempted to remain as true as possible to the source material given the limitations of the medium.
It doesn't leave room for a sequel, which is a good thing. Combining the two movies, there's a clear beginning and ending, and if the latter isn't as strong or promising as the former, at least the entire story is told. Considering the challenges associated with adapting the second half of the novel, the filmmakers have done an adequate job, which is probably all that's needed to make Chapter Two a major box office success.
© 2019 James Berardinelli
Cinemas About Town