FILM REVIEW – IT: CHAPTER TWO. With Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård. Written by Gary Dauberman. Directed by Andy Muschietti. Rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material. 169 minutes.
Let’s start with the negatives. IT: CHAPTER TWO is the second half of the big screen adaptation of the Stephen King novel, the first half of which came out in 2017. It’s too damn long, it has scenes of gratuitous violence (as opposed to violence that’s necessary for the plot), and the plot mostly recapitulates the first film only now the characters are grown up. Yet for all that, it’s not dull, exploring both the bonds of friendship as well as how the horrors of childhood never really go away.
The movie picks up the story 27 years after the events of the first film, where the violent and malicious clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has returned to terrorize the innocents of Derry, Maine. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who has never left, reaches out to his old middle school friends in the “Losers’ Club,” who have not only not remained in touch but don’t really remember their battle with the horrific Pennywise.
So we spend much time find out what has become of these characters since they were on the verge of adolescence, and it’s not pretty. Beverly (Jessica Chastain), for example, has traded an abusive father for a violently abusive husband.
They reunite, and Mike informs them that he has learned how to battle Pennywise, and it begins with each of them seeking a personal “token” out of their past. Each of the characters then gets to play out a scene where they relive the horrors of the past and experience new horrors in the present. Some are more interesting others. Bill (James McAvoy), who has never gotten over the guilt for death of his younger brother by Pennywise, buys his old bicycle from a shopkeeper who looks suspiciously like a certain Maine-based author of horror.
This eventually leads to the third act where the “Losers” wage a climactic battle with Pennywise. Unfortunately, despite making certain changes from the novel, there seems to have been a decision to incorporate multiple subplots that could have been discarded in order to speed up the proceedings. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the story of Henry Bowers (Teach Grant), a former teen bully who escapes from a mental hospital and becomes a secondary antagonist to the “Losers.” While the purists among King’s fans would have been disappointed by his absence, the character and subplot could have been discarded.
If there’s too much story here, there’s enough to keep us engaged, and director Andy Muschietti (who helmed the previous film) makes the most of it, mixing the scares and the psychodrama with some welcome humor, much it coming from Bill Hader as Richie, who has left Derry for a career as a stand-up comic. Hader’s mix of sarcasm and wry observations is a crucial addition to the mix. In a particularly strong cast for this kind of film, Hader emerges as MVP. He may not carry the film, but he makes a difference.
“It: Chapter Two” is a flawed film, but it is not a boring one. If you’re motivated to see it, you may be inclined to forgive its shortfalls. If not, you probably don’t need to see it at all.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.