WARNING: Contains spoilers
The long awaited sequel to the contemporary take on Stephen King’s “It” finally dropped in theaters in early September. The massive success of the first “It” from 2017 set the stage for chapter two to prove itself a worthy second installment. While the trailers set the movie up to be this year’s mega horror hit, “It Chapter Two” doesn’t quite live up to those expectations. But this surprisingly isn’t a bad thing.
Even though “It Chapter Two” was marketed as a classic horror film, it reads more as a thriller-drama-comedy amalgamation. The weird assortment of genres works surprisingly well, and if you weren’t looking forward to it being absolutely terrifying, you’ll probably find it rather endearing.
Critics of the first “It” from 2017 were concerned with the lack of scare factor throughout the movie. While the sequel doesn’t quite deliver more scares, the difference between the balance of creepy moments, comedic relief and references to the emotional healing that all the characters yearn for is a refreshing divergence from the first movie.
As someone who’s more indifferent about true horror films, I couldn’t care less about a film taking itself seriously. The scariest (“scary” being used very lightly) scenes in “It Chapter Two” sprinkled in bits of comedy that never seemed out of place, and made it much more bearable for the faint of heart who still enjoy a spooky movie every now and then. Especially throughout the array of traumatic flashbacks, the silly moments take the discomfort away while still reinforcing elements of horror.
The roster of talent in “It Chapter Two” is so stacked that it’s astounding. The grown-up version of The Losers Club physically mirrors all the young characters almost perfectly, and even hit all the tiny characterizations so that you know exactly who’s supposed to be who.
Bill Hader shines as Richie Tozier, staying true to his comedic roots while providing a raw portrayal of the character during the emotional moments. He kept things light, much like young Richie (Finn Wolfhard) from the first chapter and had some of the best one-liners out of everyone in the movie.
Hader also delivered a touching characterization of Richie that wasn’t in King’s original novel — the fact that Richie isn’t straight. Even though they didn’t flesh this point out as well as they could have (though I don’t know where they would have found the time in an already two hour and 50 minute movie), I think Hader succeeded in doing right by any small town queer kids out there who can relate to Richie’s experiences, good and bad.
That’s not to say that Hader’s performance was the only strong one in “It Chapter Two.” James Ransone, who takes on the grown-up version of hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak, nails all the ticks and quirks of young Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) from the first movie. It almost makes you wonder if Ransone and Grazer are somehow distantly related.
All of the main characters stepped up to fill the shoes left by the extremely talented kid actors from the first movie. Jessica Chastain and Sophia Lillis work so well together to fully round out Beverly Marsh that it feels like they actually are the same actress sometimes, especially between flashback and present day scenes. James McAvoy seamlessly captures the nervous but courageous spirit of Bill Denbrough, the leader of the Losers Club. Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike Hanlon gets his time to shine as dedicated ringleader after being overlooked in the first movie.
Praising the cast of “It Chapter Two” wouldn’t be complete without giving Bill Skarsgård his flowers. Skarsgård’s Pennywise in the original “It” was absolutely horrid in the best way. The few moments where the theater seemed truly scared were almost always scenes where Skarsgård’s iconic “It smile” filled the screen. He has the most chaotic natural creepiness to his facial expressions on top of the stellar makeup and special effects, making his Pennywise especially bone-chilling.
As most blockbuster movies nowadays, the production of “It Chapter Two” had a massive budget behind it — somewhere near $70 million. And even though it clocks in at a hefty two hours and 50 minutes, every minute of the movie showcases the care of the staff behind it.
Between the costumes and styling of the characters and the seamless flashbacks to the younger versions of the Losers, the talent from those on the team shows. Regardless of whether or not the film is “scary” in the sense that many were hoping for, it’s the perfect storm of great casting and post-production.
Some of the best parts of “It Chapter Two” came in the blink-and-you-miss-them details. Director Andy Muschietti appears as a pharmacy customer in one scene. Young Ben Hanscom from the 1990 “It” miniseries (Brandon Crane) is briefly shown in another. The most notable one is King himself appearing as an antique shop owner. While none of these are near Stan Lee’s level of iconic cameos, the Easter eggs are a nice touch when filming a remake of such a classic book.
My biggest criticism was the attack on the gay couple in the opening scene. Although it was based on a true event and author King felt it essential to include in the original novel, it was still extremely difficult to watch. For unknowing fans, it was an extremely unpleasant surprise. Whether or not it should have been included is still being highly debated, but the scariest part being something that’s potentially triggering for other reasons doesn’t bode well in a supposed horror movie.
Of course, a novel with over 1,000 pages is not easily condensable into a film of any length. Another big critique, mostly of King superfans, is that “Chapter Two” left out crucial parts of the book, like the involvement of the spouses of the Losers and the full extent of Pennywise’s involvement in their adult lives. For the die-hards who were expecting more of this, “Chapter Two” might be a bit of a let-down. But as a film adaptation of a beloved horror novel, it’s still an enjoyable way to pay homage to the book without exactly copying it.
Whether or not “It Chapter Two” succeeded as a horror film in the traditional sense is still up for debate. As a stand-alone movie, it would probably fall flat. But as a sequel to a well-established first chapter, it’s a solid follow-up, especially if you’re looking for a pretty enjoyable thriller that won’t keep you up at night for two weeks straight.