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It: Chapter Two Movie Review

It: Chapter Two (2019) movie poster It: Chapter Two

Theatrical Release: September 6, 2019 / Running Time: 169 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Andy Muschietti / Writers: Stephen King (novel); Gary Dauberman (screenplay)

Cast: Jessica Chastain (Beverly Marsh), James McAvoy (Bill Denbrough), Bill Hader (Richie Tozier), Isaiah Mustafa (Mike Hanlon), Jay Ryan (Ben Hanscom), James Ransone (Eddie Kaspbrak), Andy Bean (Stanley Uris), Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise), Jaeden Martell (Young Bill Denbrough), Wyatt Oleff (Young Stanley Uris), Jack Dylan Grazer (Young Eddie Kaspbrak), Finn Wolfhard (Young Richie Tozier), Sophia Lillis (Young Beverly Marsh), Chosen Jacobs (Young Mike Hanlon), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Young Ben Hanscom), Teach Grant (Henry Bowers), Nicholas Hamilton (Young Henry Bowers), Javier Botet (Hobo/The Witch), Xavier Dolan (Adrian Mellon), Taylor Frey (Don Hagarty), Molly Atkinson (Myra Kaspbrak, Sonia Kaspbrak), Joan Gregson (Mrs. Kersh), Stephen Bogaert (Alvin Marsh), Luke Roessler (Dean), Stephen King (Shopkeeper), Peter Bogdanovich (Peter - Director)


The makers of 2017's It were not presumptuous enough to slap a colon and "Chapter One" on the movie (outside of its closing shot), but the groundwork was there. Screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga,
and Gary Dauberman had only adapted the first half of Stephen King's epic 1986 novel. Splitting one book into two films seemed to double the profits for the end of Harry Potter, but subsequent attempts, most notably the Mockingjay films of The Hunger Games, seemed to discourage moviegoers.

It had cost $35 million to produce and grossed $50 million its opening day on its way to over $327 M domestic and $700 M worldwide, numbers largely unprecedented for an R-rated film, let alone an R-rated horror film with no big name actors. The degree of commercial success was moderately surprising, but one could tell well in advance that It would fare well at the box office, having scared a generation who experienced in it in print and/or in 1990 ABC miniseries form.

You needn't have endured either of those to anticipate It: Chapter Two. The blockbuster first film, set principally in 1989, set up the sequel with its premise of a small Maine town terrorized by an evil force every twenty-seven years and descriptions of a vision of the cast of young teenagers around age forty.

The Losers Club -- Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan --- is all grown up and back in Derry for "It: Chapter Two."

Fans were immediately excited to speculate on who would be cast as the adult versions of the spirited young protagonists. With the budget doubled, this follow-up production does not disappoint. Well, they didn't get Amy Adams to play Beverly Marsh, which seemed ideal based on Sophia Lillis' looks (and Adams' talent). But they got arguably the next best thing in Jessica Chastain. Bill Hader plays the grown-up version of foul-mouthed, bespectacled Richie Tozier. James McAvoy takes over as good-natured lead Bill Denbrough. And a quartet of actors who are less well-known fill out the remaining roles of the Losers' Club members Mike (Isaiah Mustafa, who you probably won't recognize from Old Spice commercials of yore), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean). With one deliberate exception, they all look a great deal like the characters' younger selves, which is to say all of them have reached 40 with good hairlines and waistlines and no more than a tasteful streak of gray.

It's Mike, who has never left Derry and in fact spent his life researching the evil forces that disrupt the town generationally, who calls the gang up and reminds them of their childhood vow to face their childhood tormentor personified by the dancing clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) before it does more damage to Derry in 2016. Some upsetting things have already befallen the town, including a film-opening hate crime against a gay couple at a carnival.

The Losers Club has largely forgotten their experiences of the late '80s, but each member is stricken by feelings of unease upon being invited by Mike for a homecoming of unfinished business. One in the group doesn't make it back, but the others convene at a Chinese restaurant, where their memories start flooding back and eventually so do the freaky occurrences that are like ultra realistic targeted hallucinations. The menacing Pennywise is behind it all, but he again takes many forms that prey upon the individual fears of our leads.

Those leads are generally reluctant to reopen old wounds and let Pennywise and his mayhem back into their lives. But after threats and attemps to leave town, they bind together and try to eliminate "It" once and for all.

Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the diabolical clown who torments Derry every twenty-seven years, lures in a girl with a birthmark under the football field bleachers.

Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) returns from the first film as does screenwriter Dauberman. They ensure that Chapter Two has a look and tone that is consistent with its predecessor, which isn't too hard since only two years have passed. Those two years are enough for most of the original film's pubescent young cast members -- which include St. Vincent's Jaeden Martell (formerly Lieberher),
Shazam! sidekick Jack Dylan Grazer, and Finn Wolfhard of "Stranger Things" -- to look visibly older than they did in the first movie despite their flashback scenes seemingly being set in the same summer. You can tell when footage shot for the first film is being repurposed and when the kids have been shot anew, at least if you revisited the first film as I did just hours before the sequel.

The most noticeable feature of Chapter Two is its epic nearly three-hour running time. The first It ran longer than most horror films at 2 hours and 15 minutes. This one runs longer than almost all mainstream films that aren't Avengers: Endgame. Chapter Two kind of sets out to be for horror what Endgame was for superhero movies. We've only had a single film to warm to these characters, not twenty, but the passage of nearly thirty years within the narrative universe strengthens our investment in these childhood friends who like most childhood friends have drifted apart and gone their own way. Bill is an author and screenwriter who struggles with endings, while Richie is a stand-up comic and Eddie is a desk jockey.

Chapter Two is well-made. Like its predecessor, it's classier than your typical horror film, with greater characterization and production values than you find in popular scare-driven franchise entries. Those who question the need for casting famous people have got to recognize that the presence of seasoned veterans Chastain, McAvoy, and Hader does supply a respectability to the proceedings that you generally don't get in horror movies that aren't first and foremost Scorsese or Aronofsky films. And yet, the unknown other three leads serve the film well and get to do almost as much as their more accomplished brethren.

The sheer length of Chapter Two and its design of having its characters attacked both as children and in the nearly present day does give this sequel an overcooked feel. You don't want any of the characters to get short shrift, but Pennywise's scare tactics, which also extend to inconsequential characters from the prologue and an additional under-school-bleachers scene, do border upon tedious after a while. The big inevitable climax perhaps doesn't feel quite big enough coming at the end of five hours worth of movies. But even here, the film opts to further develop characters and have them combat old demons instead of just letting that freaky clown try to make you shriek.

Chapter Two doesn't reinvent anything and it even loses some of its predecessor's nostalgic appeal with its 21st century setting. (The closest to nostalgia we find lies in Derry's Warner Bros.-only movie theater evidently having closed in 1998, but remaining unchanged and easily trespassed.) But there's more to it than your average genre outing and it stands as a fine companion to the previous film. Both are clearly among the better horror movies of their time. Their commercial success may be bigger than them (childhood nightmares of Tim Curry's Pennywise are undoubtedly still contributing to the bottom line), but they boast enough effort and substance to admire the rewards they have reaped and will continue to reap.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
ItPet Sematary (2019) • Pet Sematary (1989) • Cujo

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Reviewed September 6, 2019.

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