IT: Chapter 2 Drags Amid Some Solid Scares and Strong Performances

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2017’s It: Chapter 1 is the highest grossest horror film of all time, raking in $700 million globally at the box office. Already, there are rumblings that Chapter 2, also directed by Andy Muschietti, is going to smash box office records and surpass the $123 million opening weekend that its predecessor had. Chapter 1 resonated primarily because of the story-line of the Losers, a group of misfits and outcasts who come together to battle not only bullies but Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård), an ancient, cosmic entity who feeds upon human fear. Chapter 2’s greatest strength is the continuation of that story-line, when the Losers return to Derry, Maine to defeat Pennywise 27 years later, after children start disappearing. When the adult cast is together, the film soars. At a near three-hour running time, however, there are moments when the film feels bogged down by meandering side adventures and a CGI fest, especially during the prolonged finale.

The film’s opening 15 minutes are as powerful as Chapter 1’s beginning when poor Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is sucked into a sewer by Pennywise. Without giving much away, I will simply state that the opening  sets one of the main themes of Chapter 2: bigotry is alive and well and the only way to confront it is by banning together, hence why a grown-up Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only Loser who still lives in Derry, calls his scattered childhood friends and urges them to come home to confront Pennywise one last time. The initial reunion of the Losers (Jessica Chastain as Beverly, James McAvoy as Bill, Bill Hader as foul-mouthed Richie, Jay Ryan as Ben, and James Ransone as Eddie), is one of the film’s strongest scenes, especially as they go around the table ribbing each other, while clinking beer glasses and toasting to the Losers. The casting is perfect and each of the adult performers give it their all. In fact, I venture to say they’re as likeable as the kid actors in Chapter 1.

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The Losers as adults

After the reunion, the film sprawls out into several side adventures, focusing on each individual Loser, as they attempt to recover an “artifact” that pertains to their childhood and a traumatic encounter they had with Pennywise, who fed on their deepest insecurity. Some of these side stories are scarier than others, and, at times, I wish that Pennywise was on the screen more. In fact, I wish that Skarsgård had more to do in the film in general. Too many scenes feature CGI zombies instead of the clown. For the most part, the film is faithful to the second half of Stephen King’s novel, but sometimes what works on the page doesn’t work as well in film, especially the flashbacks featuring de-aged child actors. Weird. That said, there are some great scares, especially the Paul Bunyan scene from the novel and a scene involving Pennywise, a little girl, and a ballpark at dusk. This particular scene reminded me of  the monster’s encounter with Georgie and how terrifying Skarsgård can be just in the make-up, tricking children and luring them to a grisly death. I wish there was more of that and less CGI.

It’s clear throughout the film that if the Losers are separated, they’re in greater danger. It could be said that the film drags the most when they’re dispersed, wandering around Derry. When they’re united, going toe to toe with Pennywise, or joking around, the film hits some of its highest emotional notes. Out of all the cast, Hader especially steals the show. He’s as funny as his childhood counterpart Finn Wolfhard in Chapter 1. He also has some of the greatest character development that takes Richie way beyond the one-liners.

There’s no doubt that It: Chapter 2 is going to bring in the big bucks this weekend. Pennywise is now as iconic as Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers. It’s just a shame he wasn’t given more screen time, especially more one on one scenes with the children of Derry or the grown-up Losers. He’s far more terrifying as a human-sized clown than a CGI spider. That said, when Chapter 2 has the right beats, namely when the Losers are on screen together, the film is quite arresting. Adapting a 1,000 page novel loaded with surreal imagery about an ancient, evil presence was never going to be an easy task. Chapter 2 would have benefited from a little less fidelity and firmer editing. If trimmed more, it could have been as strong as Chapter 1.

Make sure to look out for the fun cameo by Stephen King and one of the original Losers.

Overall grade: B

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