Welcome back to Derry, Maine. Returning seemed inevitable. After the runaway success of the 2017 “IT” remake in the form of critical praise and box office records, it seemed like only a matter of time before the second half of arguably the most famous of Stephen King’s novels was adapted to the big screen.
Released almost two years to the day of the first film, “Chapter Two” picks up 27 years afterwards, focusing on Pennywise’s return and subsequent rampage throughout the town of Derry. However, given the way the first film ended, it’s understandable to expect his attacks to be more focused on the Losers Club.
Director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”) returns and he and cinematographer Checco Varese (“The 33,” “Lemonade Mouth”) manage to bring together some wonderful and evocative sets to life. Practical effects ooze from every pore, and even some of the CGI manages to not be as obvious or overbearing as it could have been. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch (“Hidden Figures,” “Blade Runner 2049”) also returns and continues to use music to underscore the creepiness expertly.
The group of kids who escaped his grasp in the first film all return, now aged up, and the way they’ve been brought back is hit or miss. Some, like James McAvoy’s (“Atonement,” “Split”) adult Bill, Isaiah Mustafa’s (“Shadowhunters”) adult Mike and Bill Hader’s (“Barry,” “The Skeleton Twins”) adult Ritchie are excellently done, with interesting dynamics within the rest of the group and ample story time.
Others, like Jessica Chastain’s (“The Tree of Life,” “Molly’s Game”) adult Bev or Jay Ryan as adult Ben, give performances that pale in comparison to the younger actors who portrayed them in the previous film. Meanwhile, the rest of the Club, James Ransone (“Sinister,” “Starlet”) as adult Eddie, and Andy Bean (“Swamp Thing,” “Power”) as adult Stanley are all just fine and they get the job done respectably.
As in the first film, though, the clear star of the show is Bill Skarsgård (“Hemlock Grove,” “Assassination Nation”) as Pennywise. He continues to show excellent work here, diving headfirst into the physicality of the role like few others can. Thankfully the film gets to showcase more toned-down moments of Pennywise as well, even featuring a few scenes where he’s just talking to the Losers and it fleshes out his fearfulness.
However, those talking scenes are most of Pennywise’s moments in the film. He just doesn’t show up that much. Not only does this mean that Skarsgård’s charm and chemistry with the rest of the cast are absent for most of the film, but the scares without Pennywise just don’t hit as hard as they should.
While the last 40 minutes is bombastic and excellent, the previous two hours feel both incredibly slow and not very scary at all. Yes, there are frightening things happening, and some are just as expertly pulled off as in the first film. But others feel like cheap retreads or even cop-outs. One even seems closer to a moment from a summer blockbuster, as opposed to a scene that fits into a Stephen King film.
For example, the leper as seen by Eddie comes back twice in “Chapter Two” and the heavy use of flashbacks in the second act makes it hard to keep track of what is happening and when it is happening. This also means that the ample time spent on reintroducing the Club and getting them all back to Derry drags far more than it should have.
What could very well be the film’s biggest issue however is in its tone. While a lot has been said in recent years about putting comedy in films like “Star Wars” or the MCU, the implementation of humor here might just be the most egregious. It’s understandable for there to be an element of humor in Pennywise, as he is a clown and there is something darkly comedic about his scare tactics.
But moments that exist seemingly just for a joke; misunderstandings in conversations, unexpected pratfalls, musical cues, and oddly delivered lines, completely throw off the tone. How can a scene be scary if, less than two minutes before, the audience was in hysterics over a pratfall off of a bike? The worst offender is a pop song musical cue directly in the middle of a scary attack scene.
Despite all of these issues, the last 40 minutes of this film is truly something special. It feels like something truly connected in tone and quality to the previous film, and thankfully Muschietti knocks it out of the park where it counts the most. The CGI, practical effects, lighting, music and acting all coalesce to create some of the most jaw-dropping entertainment put to screen this year. There is no exaggeration when saying that when the acting, production design and music all come together in the end it is fantasy horror at its most excellent.
“Chapter Two” unfortunately can’t entirely capture the horrific magic of the first film. It has excellent performances, but they’re less consistent. The few scares and Pennywise scenes, as well as tonal inconsistencies, are juxtaposed against a phenomenal third act, excellent filmmaking on a base level, and a wonderful sense of place. It’s fun for a spell and definitely shoots for the stars (or Dead Lights) this “Chapter Two” likely could have used another draft to truly become something spectacular. 3/5