The 2017 remake of IT surprised a lot of people who had written it off as a needless remake. It was tempered with the fact that the first film of a planned two-film project would only focus on the kids of Derry, Maine, battling an ancient evil. Also, the film would update itself, putting those children in 1989 and not the 1950s as in the original Stephen King novel. And somehow, it worked. IT worked very well, and the anticipation for the sequel, IT Chapter Two, was palpable.
IT Chapter Two picks up 27 years later as Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member of the “losers club” to stay in Derry, calls his friends back home. The evil that is “IT” has returned, and local kids are disappearing again. The adult versions of Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), Richie (Bill Hader), and Stan (Andy Bean) don’t remember that summer in 1989, and barely remember Mike, but the scars on their hands, and the promise made after defeating Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) comes back into focus and the losers come home. But not all of them.
Once back in Derry, the remaining old friends have to come to grips that their lives are in danger against an enemy they barely defeated 27 years before, and doubt creeps into them all. But in that 27 years, Mike Hanlon has been preparing for this moment, and his studies have uncovered not only the origin of “IT,” but a way to end it for good with the Ritual of Chud. But he needs all of the Losers Club together to make it work, and he will do whatever it takes to keep them in Derry to battle the evil clown.
The film focuses on the adult versions of the losers club, but takes the time to revisit scenes, both old and new, from the children’s story. The child actors return (Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, and Sophia Lillis) to their roles, some looking noticeably older, to bridge the two stories and to give additional context. And once again, Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is the focal point of the film. To borrow another King concept, Pennywise is the center of the wagon wheel that each of the other characters is tied to, and Skarsgard shines his deadlights with aplomb.
Trying to cram all of this story into one extended film, which runs just under three hours, is a disservice to the plot and the novel from which it is based. While the first film had a chance to breathe along the way, IT Chapter Two is forced to fill in all of the holes from both parts of the story, and that near-three-hour run time is felt by the midway point of the second act. Director Andy Muschietti pours it on, putting both adult and kid versions of the characters through harrowing scenario after harrowing scenario. By the time we get to the third act, I was kind of sick of seeing the tormenting.
There are some good effective jump scares, and some very gory scenes, but two hours in, IT Chapter Two begins to resemble Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films with its oft-times ridiculous and over-the-top horror, and for some reason, it stops working as a fear factor and becomes almost funny. Funny if you’ve ever laughed at Evil Dead II or Army of Darkness.
The script by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle films, Swamp Thing) does an admirable job of trying to hold the film together, but it’s very clear that this would work better as a trilogy and not just a two-parter, something that ABC realized in 1990 with their TV miniseries adaption of King’s novel. IT Chapter Two is simply too long and too overstuffed to let any of the concepts breathe properly.
I’m not saying there isn’t enough to enjoy here. The casting is so ridiculously spot-on that I believed I was watching adult versions of the kids from the first film. And most of the cast turns in great performances, including Mustafa’s Mike, Hader’s Richie, and Skarsgard’s Pennywise. This impeccable casting, along with the horror elements, over-the-top or otherwise, makes this film a must see for horror film and Stephen King fans. The issues with the lengthy runtime and the narrative pacing can be forgiven, or at least accepted, as when IT Chapter Two works, it works exceptionally well.
I’d always hoped that when it was all said and done, Warner Bros. would create a supercut of the films into one long narrative that better represents the book. And already, there is word that a supercut with restored cut footage and new scenes could be coming. That would be the definitive version of IT, if it were to ever come to fruition, but for now, fans have one great horror film in IT, and one good one with IT Chapter Two to hold them over until Muschietti’s supercut comes, presumably to home video and not theaters, as a seven hour film would be grueling to sit through. I could barely sit through a three hour film.
IT Chapter Two is rated R and is in theaters on September 6. All images courtesy of Warner Bros.