Last weekend, red balloons and a demonic clown returned to the centerfold of mainstream conversation with the release of “It: Chapter Two.”
The film serves as the highly anticipated follow-up to 2017’s “It,” a modestly budgeted Stephen King adaptation that went on to become the highest grossing horror film of all time. “It” was in a league of its own, bringing blockbuster-level interest to a relatively niche horror property: pop culture intrigue normally reserved for the likes of the next Marvel movie.
Two years and $700 million later, we make a return to the town of Derry, Maine. Set in modern day, or 27 years after the original, the film boasts a cast featuring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader as adult counterparts to the charming “Losers Club” we came to love from the original film.
The first takeaway from this sequel is nothing Hollywood hasn’t taught us time and time again: a bigger, longer and more expensive production doesn’t always lead to better results. Here, we have a classic case of sequelitis – meaning, it features diminishing creative returns compared to its predecessor – but not for the reasons you might think.
The problem with “It: Chapter Two” isn’t that the creative spark from the first installment is missing. In fact, most of what made that film so promising is present in its sequel, at least in some capacity. It features an earnestly engaging cast, refined cinematography and visual effects, creepy setpieces, a fantastically chilling central villain and a level of elegance and taste rarely observed in movies abundant in jump scares.
The problem, then, must be that all of that promise is consistently threatened by everything else around it. This film is well meaning but entirely overcrowded. With a hefty 2 hour 49 minute runtime, it becomes tedious on more than one occasion.
It starts off incredibly strong, with a nuanced, gut-wrenching and eerie opening sequence– a scene so good it suggests the groundwork for what should be an equally compelling film to follow. Instead, those promises go unmet. What follows is about two hours of episodic set up. To be fair, there are great moments woven into the doldrums, moments of brilliance akin to the ones we remember so well from chapter one, but they are not enough to bring balance to an irreparably unfocused story.
The problem is, for a runtime just south of three hours (and it feels like three hours, let me tell you), there's quite a lot missing.
For example, where the heck is Pennywise?
It seems counterintuitive to ask that of a film supposedly centered around the character’s motives, murders and mythology. Still, he’s used so sparingly here it’s frustrating.
In the first place, actor Bill Skarsgård, who consistently impresses when given the chance, is given very little to do here. This is mostly due to the film’s overreliance on CGI-generated versions of Pennywise, which, despite being much less effective than Skarsgård’s hypnotic acting, are alloted much more screen time.
Besides that, while the adult actors in the film do a fine job in their roles, not even they can help the fact the most of those parts are woefully underwritten. The most egregious of these offenses comes with Jessica Chastain’s character, who is consistently defined by her relationships with men but unpermitted to explore any of them with nuance or gain proper closure. Beyond that, there are several plot points introduced here that distract from the story at hand, even while some of the compelling narrative threads from the first film are abandoned.
Frankly, all of these issues boil down to an inherent priority crisis with the screenplay. It’s overstuffed and unfocused. We spend way too much time in places the story doesn’t need to take us (or at the very least, not leave us for extended periods), and way too little on the stuff that seems to matter most. Because of that, the movie ends up dragging its feet more than building to its climax– a crescendo that is less chilling than it is contrived.
In the end, there’s a lot to like about “It: Chapter Two,” Truly, there is. But unfortunately for ticket buyers, it requires a lot of waiting around to get there.
Plenty of horror fans will be willing to stick it out, but after a supposed 27-year hiatus, we thought Pennywise might have something more clever (and creepy) up his sleeve.
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Traveler Score: C+