Horror, 170 minutes, rated R; Regal Santa Fe 6, Regal Stadium 14, and Violet Crown; 1.5 chiles
The heroes of It are known as the Losers Club. It: Chapter Two features the same group of talented young actors as the original 2017 film, and also adds older versions of these characters, who are in their 40s.
Director Andy Muschietti attempts to honor everyone involved, including Stephen King, author of the 1986 novel It, so the movie is like a game of musical chairs that runs too long. And since Muschietti has few scare tactics at his disposal, the film loses its capacity to frighten.
You will recall that in the first film the Losers Club defeated Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a demonic spirit that can take many forms but prefers that of a demented clown. Twenty-seven years later, in 2016, only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) remembers what happened. Like a bad nightmare, the rest of them barely recall that period in their young lives. Now that Pennywise is on the prowl again, hunting children and other vulnerable people, Mike contacts the rest of the Losers and asks them to return to Derry, Maine.
Initially, Muschietti successfully taps into the novelty of older actors playing adult versions of young characters. James Ransone plays the older version of hypochondriacal Eddie, and he finds heartbreaking notes of paralyzing fear. Bill Hader leaves a strong impression as Richie, the bespectacled comic relief whose need to tell jokes may hide deeper insecurities. Jessica Chastain (Beverly Marsh), James McAvoy (Bill Denbrough), Jay Ryan (Ben Hanscom), and Andy Bean (Stanley Uris) round out the Losers Club, who must venture out alone, effectively reacquainting them with the events of that fateful summer and reliving past traumas.
Once the Losers separate in Derry, Chapter Two grinds to a halt. This sequence is essentially an opportunity for every actor, both young and old, to interact with some version of Pennywise. At nearly three hours long, the need to resolve every subplot creates a gnawing sense of impatience.
Monsters and giant clowns are not the only things that make the film disturbing. Chapter Two opens with a violent hate crime, and adult Beverly deals with brutal domestic abuse. Real human trauma is given the same weight as a literal funhouse of horrors, which cheapens what the characters and audience are put through.
The first It was such a commercial and critical success because it was essentially a coming-of-age film with some scary bits thrown in. Moreover, Muschietti used the first battle against Pennywise as a metaphor for self-reliance and the loss of innocence. Now that the characters are older, there are fewer lessons for them to learn, so Chapter Two takes them back to a childlike state. Romantic subplots are indelicate, and shared grief arrives with less gravitas.
The cumulative effect is downright maudlin, which is not what you might expect from a film with gallons of blood and other bodily fluids.