After the rave reviews and record-breaking success of It, the first installment of the film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel, expectations for It: Chapter Two rose to a fever pitch. Director Andy Muschietti has tried to outdo himself with Chapter Two by assembling an all-star cast and heaping on the gore and jump scares, but the sequel lacks the charm of the first film.
The appeal of It was universal. Hardcore Stephen King fans and horror newcomers alike flocked to theaters because It wasn’t just a horror movie. Sure, on the surface, it was about a scary clown, but the emotional heart of the film was the source of its magic. There was plenty of thrills, yet time was set aside to develop the story of the Losers Club, the group of outcast kids who band together to fight It. In Chapter Two, though, Muschietti is so preoccupied with shocking viewers that he forgets to make the audience care.
Chapter Two jumps ahead 27 years after the events of the first film. The members of the Losers Club are grown up, and not quite losers anymore, but they’re still haunted by their experiences with It. When Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) reaches out to the Losers to call them back to their hometown of Derry, Maine, for a final showdown with the recently-awakened It, they’re wary. Little vignettes explore the Losers’ lives as adults, but there’s hardly any depth before they’re tossed back into the horrorshow that is Derry. They can’t even catch up over dinner at a Chinese restaurant before It begins toying with them. Monsters start hatching from fortune cookies and decaying, decapitated heads float around with the fish in the aquarium. Forget about suspense or any sort of build-up—Chapter Two wants to overwhelm.
The casting in the first film was stellar, but there’s a conspicuous lack of chemistry between the adult leads in Chapter Two. Smart-mouthed Richie is played by Bill Hader, who should have no trouble with this role, but doesn’t convincingly translate young Richie’s profane bravado to the washed up stand-up comedian he becomes. Still, it’s fun to watch him play off the neurotic energy of Eddie (James Ransone). And of course, the whole friendship gains a new dimension when it’s revealed that Richie is secretly in love with Eddie. The rest of the cast blends into the background. Especially disappointing is the film’s treatment of Beverly. The once mischievous, tough young Bev seems barely related to Jessica Chastain’s grown-up Beverly, who seems to exist only as a tragic, battered wife waiting for a man to rescue her.
Instead of exploring the dynamic among the Losers, the film spends much of its 2 hours and 49 minutes dealing with their individual traumas. They venture off on their own, and It takes the opportunity to attack their most private fears and insecurities. Beverly encounters an unsettling old woman who turns into a towering, naked witch. Eddie has to save his mother from a leper who vomits black goo all over him. It isn’t long before things start to feel formulaic. The monsters are larger, louder, and more grotesque, but there’s no real novelty to the scares. The film follows a familiar tempo so often that you can almost begin to predict when things will suddenly leap out at the characters.
Despite its length, Chapter Two fails to explore some of the more oddball plot points in King’s novel. Bill Skarsgård, excellent as ever, reprises his role as Pennywise. His performance is just as fascinating the second time around—his lanky frame and childlike whisper stealing the show. But there’s no mention of the book’s multidimensional universe or cosmic, world-creating turtle (although observant fans might notice multiple visual references to said turtle in the film). Some risk-taking might have done the film good. Instead, Chapter Two clings to the bare bones of the novel and ignores its more intriguing propositions.
In its quest to reach ever more baroque levels of violence, Chapter Two neglects the human stories that fueled the first film. Case in point: A massive budget, a star-studded cast, and superb special effects mean nothing if there’s no emotional foundation. By forgetting to maintain the audience’s connection to the Losers, Chapter Two becomes just another over-the-top horror film.
Featured Image by Warner Bros.