A lot has happened to the Losers Club in 27 years.
After incapacitating the terrifying, shape-shifting, child-gobbling entity that plagued their small town in 1989, seven middle-school outcasts — Bill, Richie, Beverly, Ben, Eddie, Stanley and Mike — took a blood oath, swearing that they would all return to Derry, Maine, should the monster return.
“It Chapter Two,” the sequel to 2017’s smash-hit Stephen King adaptation, fast-forwards to 2016. Most of the Losers have managed to escape Derry and have subsequently forgotten the horrors they endured at the hands of the being to which they’ve only ever referred as “It.” Many of them enjoy successful careers, particularly now-renowned novelist Bill and stand-up comic Richie, and a few of them are married.
But deep down, It's grip on them has never loosened. And when fresh corpses begin to litter Derry once more, Mike, the only member of the gang to stay behind, calls the rest, imploring them to stay true to their childhood vows. Still, It is prepared to pull out every spine-tingling stop necessary to sustain its historic reign of terror.
Released almost two years to the day after its predecessor, this film had a lot to live up to. “It,” though of course marketed as an out-and-out horror flick, is one of the best coming-of-age movies this century, careful to dig deep into the hearts and minds of its young ensemble and to capitalize on the many strengths of its perfectly-selected cast, all without skimping on the scares.
Similarly, the greatest strength of “Chapter Two” is its star power. A number of recognizable names top the film’s call sheet, including this decade’s breakout character actor James McAvoy as Bill and two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain as Beverly. Particularly delightful as Ritchie is “Saturday Night Live” legend Bill Hader, who gets to flex his uncanny balance of physical humor and bare-bones humanity — a dichotomy that made HBO’s “Barry” one of the best things to happen to TV in a while. And, as is to be expected, Bill Skarsgård is pitch-perfect as the deliciously disturbing Pennywise.
Still, a great cast can only do so much with what it’s given, and just like the grown-up half of King’s source novel, this film manages to feel both cluttered and paper thin. While the first entry thrived on the simplicity of its story and spent much-needed time on developing its characters, this one crams characterization into the first 20 minutes or so, bogging down the remaining two-and-a-half hours with excessive world-building and over-explanation. It ignores part of what made its predecessor so enjoyably digestible by refusing to eschew the most alienating, out-of-place elements of the 1,138-page book.
Further disenchanting are an array of strange — sometimes plain bizarre — filmmaking choices by returning director Andy Muschietti that often rob the movie of its creepiness. Between wince-inducingly obvious use of de-aging technology, baffling music cues and a few incredibly on-the-nose cameos, this movie can’t resist the urge to remind you that it’s a movie, a tendency less suited to a supernatural horror-thriller than an “Anchorman” sequel.
The climactic action sequence is generally excellent, featuring some of the best special effects and cinematography to grace a big-budget Hollywood film this year. Unfortunately, getting to it means enduring an uninteresting slog that runs out of surprises too soon. One of 2019’s most highly anticipated movies, “It Chapter Two” is also one of 2019’s most disappointing.
John Battiston is a Times-Mirror reporter and a founder of the Reel Underdogs podcast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reel Underdogs is not affiliated with the Times-Mirror.