When we last left the not-so-cozy little town of Derry, Maine it was 1989 and the seven friends who make up “The Losers Club” had vanquished the sinister child-chomping clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Knowing the possibility that he could return in 27 years, the group vows to come back to Derry if Pennywise every resurfaces. If that doesn’t scream sequel nothing does.
To be fair Stephen King’s best-selling novel made a clear that a sequel was all but guaranteed. And it’s not like the filmmakers weren’t saying as much before the first “It” even hit theaters. And I’m sure Warner Bros. didn’t mind making another film considering the first one brought in over $700 million against a modest $35 million budget.
“It: Chapter Two” deals with the inevitable return of Pennywise after 27 years in hibernation. A new cast plays the all grown up “Losers” while the original cast returns playing their younger selves in numerous flashbacks. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) ends up being the only one who stayed in Derry and when he sees signs of the killer clown’s return he contacts the “Losers” to fulfill their oath. Strangely, with the exception of Mike, the group have forgotten key details of their friendship and their time in Derry. Turns out the further you get away from the town the less you remember.
Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) receive calls from Mike beginning their slow drip of returning memories. It also begins the film’s overly long and cumbersome task of getting these characters from Point A to Point B while checking off a lot of boxes along the way.
Navigating the unwieldy plot is just one of the problems effecting this overstuffed and wildly uneven sequel. The first film proved that these characters were at their best when they were together. “Chapter Two” fails to tap into that by keeping them apart for far too long. Take a long middle segment where each person goes out on their own to find their “artifact” hidden somewhere in Derry. It’s meant to show them facing and overcoming a buried fear from their past, but it plays out like one staged horror set piece after another some. A couple are good including Beverly’s despite it being completely spoiled in the trailers. Some are more interested in the grotesque while others are just ridiculous.
A couple of moments do hit home particularly when the group discovers their old underground clubhouse. The scene blends together sequences of the young and old in a way that makes their friendships seem authentic and tangible. There is also a tender emotional tug from the movie’s final few minutes that you can’t help but be effected by despite the bumpy road to get there.
A few other things contribute to this disappointing followup. Several aimless story-threads are introduced that literally go nowhere. There is a fizzling love triangle that is all but abandoned. We get several hokey and uninspired appearances by Henry Bowers, the raving lunatic bully from the first film, then he is just dropped. Oh, and then there’s all of the supernatural mumbo-jumbo regarding a Native American tribe and mystical rituals that proves to be a waste of time. With all of this stuffing it’s no wonder the movie clocks in at just under three hours.
But perhaps the biggest frustration is with the handling of Pennywise. It’s as if returning director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman forgot what made him such a deliciously wicked part of the first film. With the exception of one lone scene Pennywise is relegated to the background of a series of set pieces. Gone is the creepy psychological terror and menacing presence. And Skarsgard, who was so good in the first movie, isn’t given the space to unsettle us. It’s such a shame.
Inconsistent visual effects that are more interested in shocking us than frightening us. An overly long running time clogged with too much filler and not enough drama. A good cast (particularly Chastain, McAvoy, and Hader) hampered by a scattershot script. Too many things weigh “It: Chapter Two” down and keep it from resonating like the first chapter. And too much time is squandered in the wrong places. I hate to say it, but I was happy when it finally ended.
VERDICT – 2 STARS