It Chapter Two is not as good as the first film, but it does have enough heart, character and effective horror to outweight the bad.
27 years after It (Chapter One), the adult Losers are drawn back to Derry by Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who never left and realises that Pennywise has returned. The group are forced to confront their forgotten past and a resurgent It, and have to work together to stop It once and for all.
Having read all 1,000+ pages of the book, like most Stephen King I’ve read many parts remain seared into my memory, because of his incredible mind for disturbing horror writing mixed with developed characters and a great sense of humour. What the first film did well was marry that mix with a great young cast, and chop unnecessary elements of the book out, with great success.
Director Andy Muschietti appears to have planned ahead (before Chapter One became the highest grossing horror ever), and was given free rein to make a comprehensive conclusion. The problem as always is that a longer film isn’t always a better film, and being nearly three hours Chapter Two might have been better with harsher editing.
Gary Dauberman’s adaptation modernises certain elements successfully and reaches the balance King’s books do between humour and horror, and while thankfully he doesn’t put everything in (some characters and events are cut), he and Muschietti made a rod for their own back following up such a successful first film.
Muschietti elects for flashbacks to give each adult a singular focus when returning to Derry and face their fears. The problem is, he repeats this five times, over what feels like at least half an hour, and that predictable structure causes the film to screech to a halt, even despite effective scares in those scenes. Tension is a huge part of horror, and it’s key in some amazing parts of this section (Bev’s unnerving return to her father’s home specifically).
Others drag though, and while admirable that each character is given their due (a rarity in ensembles), the overall effect is of ticking boxes and predictability, with a loss of momentum. Infuriatingly that approach succeeds when we’re introduced to the adults, with quick, sharp, funny and effectively creepy scenes. Editor Jason Ballantine does a good job in raising stakes and momentum there, but it’s all lost in that weighty middle section.
However, there is success in parts mixing the older and younger casts, bringing back that chemistry and camaraderie. Have your cake and eat it appears to be the mantra, but the film definitely benefits more from these small, soulful scenes of reflection and memory (and the excellent child cast, all returning).
The overall story is strong and makes welcome changes to the novel, and while I was hoping for the conclusion to be a bit more insane (as written!), King’s original enters into cosmic horror, and I don’t think the average audience would want or appreciate that! However, the special effects – on a big budget – are one hell of a letdown, taking away oozy, tactile gore and overusing naff CGI. Practical effects will always be more appreciated because they shatter the unreality – you see something horrible that looks real, and you’ve bought into the horror. Here, many scenes had CGI when they didn’t need it, neutering the fear and disgust.
This is also a problem for cinematographer Checco Varese, who works wonders with Derry’s tangible foulness, including its murky, swampy and sweaty environments – but any monstrous CGI ruins this with its unrealistic sheen. Benjamin Wallfisch’s sinister and terrifying score is a rare technical element that works, surprisingly emotional and uplifting as well as intense.
Chapter Two is definitely less frightening, though more disturbing (in fits and starts), specifically the brutal start. You’d think adults’ fears would be more horrifying, but that poor CGI means you’re more disturbed by what the kids faced – perhaps children in mortal peril are more disturbing than often disposable (read: stupid) adults.
Visually the adult casting is unnervingly spot on. James McAvoy, while ostensibly the lead, is more of a supporting character, though once the film refocuses on his grief and guilt about Bill’s brother – and another at risk young kid – there’s a sensitivity and inner steel mixed with a guilt and righteous anger.
Jessica Chastain’s Bev is surprisingly minimal, and Chastain appears lost in comparison to Sophia Lillis in the first film. Her challenge is that a large element of Bev’s story is excised, and ultimately does the best she can with what she’s given – expressing pain and regret, focusing on a past excruciatingly similar to her present. Sadly she’s also saddled with a predictably dopey love subplot, diminishing the character in contrast to Lillis’ strong, fierce performance.
The standout is Bill Hader as Richie, not only the comedic centrepoint and reliever of tension, but the emotional core. A subtle yet significant change to his character (sadly not as developed as it could have been) gives the foul mouthed joker depth. James Ransome’s Eddie is further great lookalike casting but also a great continuation of the younger actor’s edgy, paranoid personality.
Jay Ryan’s sensitive, thin and attractive older Ben is the group’s more soulful element, though again certain elements of the character’s development feel rushed, while a dramatic confrontation is hinted at then forgotten. Mustafa does what he can in the largely thankless role of the group’s unifier, though thankfully one King character choice is excised. He does however do a good job of painting a desperate, lonely man who thinks he understands what needs to be done, even though he may not know exactly what he’s trying to achieve.
Bill Skarsgard is sadly not featured anywhere near as much, and beyond one effectively horrible scene, serves as more of a malignant figure around the various horrors than the everpresent bastard he was in the first film. It’s a shame really because he was truly unnerving, but It’s different forms dominate here until a badly CGI assisted finale.
All in all the two parts of this adaptation are (as a whole) excellent, and probably two of the best King adaptations out there. It’s just a shame this second part goes bigger in all the wrong ways, though the expert casting and some of the horror makes it a worthy conclusion.