It: Chapter Two
A clown, especially an ancient evil one, is a grand central character for any horror film. However, it takes more than Pennywise to keep It: Chapter Two rolling.
Though Chapter Two picks up mere moments after the events at the end of part one, the film primarily takes place 27 years later, in present day. The Losers Club have drifted apart, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only one left keeping an eye on the town of Derry, looking for evidence of the return of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). When the deaths and red balloons inevitably return, Mike calls the gang and asks them all to come back to fight the ancient evil.
No one in the group remembers the entirety of the events that led to Pennywise’s first defeat. It’s as if the town itself forced them to forget as they moved outside the border. But as they come back to town, the memories come back to them, and Mike must get them all to agree to this dangerous and trying task.
The majority of the film’s long running time (169 minutes) is dedicated to the gang trying to remember their pasts and gather tokens that can be used to fight Pennywise. The horcrux hunt is accompanied by extended flashbacks and meddling by the murderous clown, as he takes various forms and tries his best to torment and torture. This should be exciting to watch unfold, but the stilted pacing and predictable outcomes make it all a bit boring. Each of the characters remembers a forgotten trauma, encounters Pennywise just as they grab their token, but ultimately make their way to the big finale. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This isn’t to say that It: Chapter Two is a wreck. The casting is incredible amongst the grownup Losers, and Pennywise is a treat during his limited screen time.
Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Jay Ryan, and James Ransone all gel wonderfully as the group of long-separated, childhood friends, but this film belongs to Bill Hader. His turn as the adult Richie achieves the difficult balance of the tormented comedian with ease. He shows fine cracks of vulnerability through his jokes and wooden countenance without ever falling into a clichéd crevice, and becomes the soul of the film. We’ve known since The Skeleton Twins that Hader had this in him, and it’s satisfying to see his performance on a screen proportionate to his talent.
Pennywise’s antics are another major highlight in It: Chapter Two, which is no surprise given Skarsgård’s scene stealing in the first movie. While the concept of the ancient evil fueling the scamp of a circus clown is fundamentally the scariest part of him, Pennywise is always the most terrifying when acting innocent. Whether luring Georgie into a storm drain or baiting a young girl under the bleachers, his projected, and false, innocence runs a chill down the spine. In Chapter Two, Pennywise gets the occasional opportunity to prance and play, but it feels like these moments are too quick and too sparse.
At its core, It: Chapter Two is about memory, loss, and good versus evil. I just wish it dragged a little less.