27 years have gone by since that blood oath in Derry, Maine. All the losers have gone their separate ways in careers and personal lives, save Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa). Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) has risen again to claim new victims young and old, causing Hanlon to contact all the grown up losers: Beverly Marsh, Bill Denbrough, Richie Tozier, Ben Hanscom, Eddie Kaspbrack, and Stanley Uris (Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Wyatt Oleff). They return to their hometown for a memorable reunion and a mission to stop their childhood trauma from killing anyone else.
The 2017 remake of IT caught people by surprise when it was revealed to be part of a duology covering a book the size of a brick. After reading a good chunk of the novel in preparation for the second half, it was a smart move. The book and the Tim Curry miniseries have their moments of genuine laughs and scares, particularly with the kids, but when there’s eight characters to keep track of while jumping from past to present, it becomes difficult to hold your attention with so much going on at once. By separating both time periods to their own chapters, this presented an opportunity to fix the problems people had with both sources and possibly become the definitive adaptation. Although many flaws were fixed, this book is harder to translate to screen than people think, even when taking out the cinematic liberties. And the main selling point is much more exaggerated than expected.
Apart from one key element, everything about this works extremely well, starting with the adult cast. It’s amazing how identical everyone is to their child counterparts in looks and personality. It’s so uncanny that both past and present forms could come face to face with one another by looking in a mirror. They also bounce off one another with believable chemistry no matter the combination. Everyone’s talked about Bill Hader as Richie stealing the show with his endless comedic jabs and powerfully subtle drama, but the other stand out is James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough. With everything being expanded upon, Bill benefits the most by dealing with the aftermath of losing his brother, Georgie. And McAvoy really sells the guilt and frustration of having that tragedy re-infect his life. That is, when he’s not dealing with a running joke on how “he’s” a great author, but “he” writes terrible endings. It’s so on the nose about it that a cameo eventually joins in on the fun. The rest of the cast is just as great with their own dedicated time communicating so much with visual camera work in only a few minutes.
Sure there are still flashbacks that feel like deleted content from chapter one, but they’re never out of context, always connecting with the here and now. As for the final battle, it does take a modern Hollywood approach, but it’s still more entertaining than both the novel and miniseries seeing as the latter had a budget so terrible it couldn’t even make a giant spider look terrifying, let alone convincing. It knows what to keep intact while adding something different from other forms of the story.
With all the pleasantries out of the way, this isn’t as good as the first chapter for various reasons: the runtime is a little too long clocking in at two hours and 50 minutes, the effects suffer an inconsistent quality like before, and most importantly, the scares are few and far between because the comedy is so on point. Something about kids being terrorized by an unknown entity is much creepier than adults that endure the same obstacle. And when the horror moments pop up once the group splits, they start to become repetitive at a certain point, feeling more and more like thinly stitched theme park rooms rather than living breathing threats, although the creativity in the scenarios goes wherever it wants. Sometimes they’re legitimately grotesque, other times they come off as rejected ideas from Disney’s Haunted Mansion. But the thing is there’s more to horror than scares. There’s tension, unsettlement, psychology, and atmosphere. Just ask A Quiet Place which relied more on sound than showing the creatures because one tiny noise was the equivalent of ringing the dinner bell. There’s pressure to walk in your socks instead of shoes, games are played with wool trinkets, and sign language takes up the majority of dialogue. There’s not as much blood, guts, or gore. The same could be said about this to an extent. For all the repetitive scares, they still connect to the fears and negative manifestations hiding inside each and everyone of the losers. It’s not just about killing the clown, it’s about dealing with forgotten problems from long ago. By the end, everyone realizes that by confronting those unresolved moments, they leave with new memories and connections making way for a very satisfying and emotional ending. And one character who felt like a wasted side plot on first viewing actually made more sense upon a revisit. He’s a vessel from the past that Pennywise uses as a puppet to go after the group, and in the end it leads to a long overdue bridge burning. But if you’re going in to watch an adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, the scares play a big part in this campfire tale about a killer clown, and it’s a shame that they don’t deliver on rattling your bones to the grave.
IT: Chapter Two works more as a psychological character adventure than a genuine horror show. There’s definitely scares, but they’re not as prevalent as the childhood chapter where seeing kids in danger is automatically more terrifying. And they feel so episodic that it almost negates the notion of separating both time periods into separate chapters. But if there’s anything to be taken away from the author’s bibliography, it’s that there’s more to Stephen King than horror, which more than makes up for its faults and still comes out as the definitive adaptation. The entire cast (particularly James McAvoy and Bill Hader) are amazing in embodying their opposite child actors, the scares still present some very creative scenarios, the comedy works to bring everyone together, the climax is a nice compromise that stays faithful while offering its own spin, and the ending feels very satisfying after getting to know this group for almost five hours. If you’re looking to be scared out of your socks, just watch the 2017 original again and count your blessings. Otherwise this is a solid conclusion to a story that seemed impossible to translate off the pages. At the very least, there won’t be a third chapter like The Hobbit series, which took a pamphlet of a novel one script too far for financial gain rather than artistic integrity. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Or in this case, a gift clown.