Chapter 2 fails to build on the genuine sentiment that made the first one so wonderful.
This messy sequel is one big gimmick. By turning the isolated Maine town of Derry into one big carnival funhouse, it’s hard to take anything that happens in the movie seriously. And since every sequence has you questioning what is real and what might be happening in the netherworld controlled by Pennywise, there’s very little sincere emotions for the viewer to latch onto. “It Chapter Two” is a failure, but one not without moments. The problem is that, at almost three hours in length, there are so many moments, none of them standout.
Twenty-seven years have passed since the Losers Club sent the evil, murderous clown killer Pennywise packing. As children, the club overcame their individual fears to sap Pennywise of his power. But as the group left Derry to grow up, their memories have become cloudy. And in forgetting, they’ve given the clown a chance to resurface, to kill again.
One of their clan, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), does remember, and having never left, he has devoted his life to preparing for the ultimate showdown with Pennywise. And when he sees evidence of the reappearance of the creature, he calls the losers to come back and finish the job.
As the calls are made, we meet the other adult members of the club. The casting is excellent. Bill is played by James McAvoy, with the stutter and stammer reemerging. The foul-mouthed Richie (Bill Hader) has ironically become a standup comedian of note. The once chubby Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) is now a hunky rich architect. Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) is married and living in the big city. And Eddie is played by James Ransone in an uncanny performance.
Jessica Chastain plays Beverly Marsh. This character’s introduction is one of the film’s first missteps. Following a call from Mike, she begins to pack. Her husband then confronts her and becomes unbelievably violent. They immediately engage in a bit of fierce hand-to-hand combat. Like so much of this movie, everything is cranked up to eleven (including bone-crunching sound effects and sprays of dark flowing blood), which chips away at its credibility. Perhaps, all this is the work of Pennywise. But it’s such an abrupt shift in tone that I was pulled entirely out of the film. Those missteps continue.
When the losers arrive in Derry, they get together for dinner and memories begin to come back. This is where we begin get a series of intersecting flashbacks shot with the younger cast from the first film. Some of these flashbacks work, but they all seem a bit off, as though they were an afterthought. And as the scenes are combined with the present day, it is easy for the viewer to get confused and disoriented. Changes in the youngsters are also evident, although not terribly distracting.
I found myself questioning, however, when, in the story that we already know, did the events in flashback occur? Did any of it happen? My questions made enjoying the movie difficult and have even made me rethinking my affection for the first film. Is it possible that this bloated and insincere sequel could have the effect of damaging the legacy of the one that came before it? 2017’s “It” was, after all, such a massive box office triumph that it helped create a Stephen King renaissance. This movie might make some bucks, but it does not continue the former film’s watershed moment.
Then there’s the action/horror sequences that are constant and some a little schlocky. Everything in the town is tweaked and alien. And a particular cameo just comes off as an unwanted gimmick undercutting the emotional impact of the events that are to come. References to other films are scattered here and there as though the attempt is to draw together the Stephen King multiverse both from his novels and even the films based on them. It’s a scattershot approach that yields nothing particularly profound. Telling the story straight without these tricks would have been a better idea.
Still, there are several creepy sequences involving Pennywise (again played with menace by Bill Skarsgård). And the scene, that’s been largely spoiled in trailers, in which Beverly visits her old apartment is effective. But as a whole, these moments don’t collectively gel, and as King’s conclusion reveals the origins of Pennywise, it’s easy to just throw your hands up when trying to make sense of it all. I was left frustrated and disappointed, because “It” was one of my favorite films of 2017.
Jam-packed with jump-scares and horror special effects, the “It” funhouse adds up to very little.