Twenty-seven years since they first faced off and defeated Pennywise, things are getting bad in Derry again and Mike decides the time has come to call the Losers back home, to come together and fulfil their vow.
An advantage the 1990 adaptation had over the modern remake is that it was conceived and commissioned as an adaptation of the whole book. In contrast, 2017’s “It” needed to hedge its bets just in case it wasn’t successful enough to warrant a sequel/ conclusion. Of course, they needn’t have worried but as a result, there’s a disconnected feeling between the two movies which undermines some of the emotional connection to the Losers Club because we’re essentially introduced to a bunch of strangers with familiar names. It’s a structural problem the TV miniseries overcame by starting in the ‘present’ and then flashing back for extended periods to the gang’s childhood adventures and one which, of course, didn’t have an impact on the first movie but here it hits hard.
Despite an expansive runtime – over half an hour longer than the first chapter – the character introductions for the adult Losers feel rushed and shallow. The film expects us to care about these people because we’re told they’re the grown-up versions of the kids we loved the first time around. We only get the barest hints of how the toxic malevolence of Pennywise continued to poison their lives even after they managed to leave Derry but then again, the film only kind of obliquely references how Pennywise’s presence has corrupted the whole of Derry. To combat the reduced scariness thanks to the adult protagonists, Muschietti ups the grisliness and gore but the film still feels repetitive in a middle act which sees Pennywise and each individual Loser go through the same process over and over again.
Pennywise’s presence is another issue because while his influence is felt, his actual screentime is vanishingly small, a shame given how much Bill Skarsgård brings to the character, but it’s inevitable given the shift from children to adults changes the dynamics of the scares. Performance-wise, it’s something of a star-studded mixed bag. Bill Hader is terrific as the older Richie Tozier, although the film is far too coy about his dark secret for it to really resonate which is a shame given how good James Ransome is as Eddie. Jessica Chastain does what she can with a script that gives her very little to do while James McAvoy and Jay Ryan deliver such generic, bland performances it’s a wonder Pennywise even noticed they’d come back and there’s precious little compensation for Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike Hanlon after the character was short-changed in the first movie.
“It Chapter Two” is still a polished and impressive horror movie and when it gets it right – such as in the brutally dark opening scenes – it’s sensational but the lack of chemistry between its adult cast and a muddled approach to plot and characters means it can’t float as high as the first chapter.