*1/2 out of ****
(for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material)
Released: September 6, 2019
Runtime: 169 minutes
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Wyett Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Teach Grant
Stephen King‘s novel “IT” is considered one of his best, and it’s easy to buy that reputation when watching 2017’s surprisingly effective feature film that adapted the childhood half of the story.
But if all you had was its sequel to go on, you’d assume “IT” was one of King’s worst.
In what has to be one of the most needlessly long movies in Hollywood history, It Chapter Two does everything wrong that the first did right. The fact that the same core creatives (starting with director Andy Mushietti) are behind both isn’t just surprising, it’s disappointing.
The first cinematic chapter of It – even with its requisite scares – was a sincere and nuanced coming-of-age story that just happened to be at the heart of a horror film. Instinctively restrained when and where it needed to be (which was remarkably often) and crafted with genuine skill rather than crude genre tricks, It earned its status as the most successful horror movie of all time. More importantly, the strong teen ensemble gifted a huge amount of emotional and sentimental capital to the all-star cast that would continue their story.
It Chapter Two betrays all of that, and King’s novel along with it.
Superfluous where the original was economical and fueled by cheap jump scares, this adult-focused sequel – which finds the kids from 1989 reuniting back in Derry, Maine twenty-seven years later to battle the evil supernatural clown Pennywise once again – is gimmicky and desperate by comparison.
In a necessary attempt to simplify the unfilmable complexities of the novel’s mythos, Muschetti packs in mystery-numbing exposition into a drastically oversimplified reduction of the story’s “Ritual of Chud” lore, especially in how it affects the now-grownup members of The Losers Club and, ultimately, how they must defeat Pennywise once and for all.
Laboring through a nearly three-hour dirge, the 169 minutes of redundant narrative could’ve easily been hacked to 100. Each of the seven Losers are given extended solo sequences that focus on the shame they’ve suppressed, that Pennywise still exploits, and that each must confront.
And each individual journey hits the same exact thematic beat. Over and over and over again.
Worse yet, they’re the same beats that Chapter One already explored.
More practically, one starts to wonder how many times these characters will keep falling for the same traps that Pennywise sets for them. It’s all so monotonous, and the gruesome visions within the supernatural mind games are ghoulishly gory and garish, unintentionally ratcheting up the cheese factor as the film progresses.
The plot is padded unnecessarily in other ways, too, like an extended opening (not involving any of our main characters) that’s meant to establish the return of Pennywise. The whole thing could’ve been dropped and replaced by a later scene that shows Pennywise deceiving a young girl underneath a bleacher. It does the same job as the opening scene but better, and you only need one.
Flashbacks to the teen-aged characters are welcome detours from the incredulity of the events set in 2016, and Bill Hader somehow elevates shoddy material that other talented members of the ensemble understandably can’t, but nothing can salvage this miscalculated mess and its facile climax. It Chapter Two isn’t scary, it’s embarrassing.