At the end of It, seven young friends who have stared down and defeated Pennywise the child-abducting clown make a pact: to return to the small town of Derry, Maine should another reign of terror begin. It Chapter Two (2019) tells the story of that fraught, terrifying reunion. Pennywise’s twenty-seven-year cycle of terror ramps up again, leading the last of the Losers’ Club still living in Derry — Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) — to call everyone back. Most of the group has mysteriously forgotten their showdown with Pennywise, but upon their return, their memories and their fear returns. But so does their friendship, and their mission to spare the people of Derry another of Pennywise’s murderous sprees. And this time, they have a plan to defeat Pennywise for good.
I haven’t read the novel It, but it’s my understanding that it wove together past and present tracks, mingling the Losers’ Club’s childhood experiences with their middle-aged return. This probably made it a challenging film to adapt, and the decision to split it into two films was a smart one. It certainly led to a tighter and more effective opening film. Alas, It Chapter Two — while hardly a failure — doesn’t quite match up to its predecessor. It’s tempting to attribute the quality drop-off to the challenges of casting older actors to recapture the spirit of the younger ones, but I don’t think that’s the problem. The cast — headlined by James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader — does a fine job, even as the adult versions of these characters aren’t quite as winning as their younger counterparts. And overall, it’s an engaging enough film, professionally made.
It Chapter Two falls down in a couple of places, though. One is the script, which isn’t quite as effective: the dialogue is too frequently on the nose, and leans heavily on jarring humor that clashes with an otherwise severe tone. It also undermines the first film’s affecting depiction of a formative traumatic experience by too frequently nodding and winking at it. Even more disappointing, though, are the special effects, which while outwardly impressive are also inflated and over-the-top, making them more cartoonish and harder to take seriously. It’s scares were intimiate and intense, but Chapter Two goes big, and turns the Club’s nightmarish reprise into a more distant and unreal experience. Bill Skarsgård is just as good in his spirited performance as Pennywise, but the increased reliance on CGI puts more weight on spectacle than on the emotion, much to the film’s detriment.
I knew It was only half of the Stephen King novel, which made it surprising how satisfying and complete it felt. It Chapter Two isn’t terrible, but it fails to pull off the same trick, feeling more conventional and forgettable.