Stronger than its predecessor, It Chapter Two sees pitch-perfect casting and the return of the ‘Losers Club’ to Derry. Pennywise is still a menace, but the film is much more forceful with its real-life horrors than the first, making him a much more horrifying villain. Whilst the film struggles with repetition, the film maintains a tight pace right up until its ending. Its climax sees a return to the first film’s bad habits: going overboard with its use of CGI, often killing tension.
In 1989, the ‘Losers Club’ made an oath to return to Derry to confront Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), should it ever return. Twenty-seven years later, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member to have stayed in Derry, makes a call to the other Losers that consumes them with fear. Pennywise’s killings have started again. Struggling with their odds, the group reluctantly returns to where it all began. With each facing their own horrors in the dancing clown, the group confronts Pennywise once and for all…
The casting is what strikes one the most. Each grown-up iteration of the Losers Club has been cast perfectly. James Ransone, as the adult version of nervous Eddie, is particularly remarkable, not just in how he looks like a grown-up Jack Dylan Grazer (the young Eddie) but also in how his mannerisms match. Indeed, there’s a definite delight in clocking which grown-up version we’re presented with before the film makes it explicit.
Of the characters, there’s a remarkable degree of vulnerability among the men. We see Richie (Bill Hader) break down in tears and Mike tells Bill (James McAvoy) that he loves him. Most significant, however, is seeing Stanley (Andy Bean) take a bath. During the sequence of introductions, the film leads us to believe that we’re about to meet Bev (Jessica Chastain), and so the out-of-focus shot of a naked body getting into a bath initially seems like it’ll be a somewhat sexualised look at the only woman of the group. However, it’s revealed to be Stanley, and the scene sees Stanley dealing with his fears. Seeing a male character on camera in a way that’s usually reserved for gazing at women, and having Stanley present such raw emotions, is interesting. As it turns out, the scene becomes one of great and tragic significance.
In 2017’s It, the film covers several real-life horrors, but appears more suggestive with their presentation. The key example is Bev’s father, as the film hints strongly at him having sexually assaulted his daughter – though this is not explicit. Meanwhile, Chapter Two opens with a young couple becoming the victims of a violent, homophobic attack. It is not suggestive in its presentation; we witness an act of hate. This is, perhaps, the film’s most dread-filled sequence. Pennywise’s monstrousness can be horrible, but it doesn’t ever come close to the deep sense of wrong and terror that permeates what we’re forced to watch. Chapter Two is certainly more forceful with its real-life horror.
It Chapter Two maintains a decent pacing until its end. Because the cast has been so precisely assembled, we’re genuinely interested in catching up with them as people. This is a plus because, structurally speaking, the film repeatedly detours into the personal history of each character. Were it not for the great cast that genuinely engages us, these detours could bore easily. The great pace is maintained until the film’s climax, wherein the film veers into digital madness – more on that later.
In the first film, Mike’s character is somewhat shortchanged in that he seemingly has the least development. Chapter Two takes a step forward and then a step backward in this regard. In the sequel, Mike is effectively the film’s historian. He knows the history of Pennywise and how it came to be, and he leads the group’s exploration of to how confront it. However, Mike being the historian becomes the summation of his character. Once again, Mike is afforded the least development. This is also odd because, by comparison to certain other members of the Losers Club, his past is one of particular potential for fear and guilt. Alas, it’s not explored in as much depth as one might hope.
There’s also a sense of repetition throughout the film. This critic noted (at least) three sequences where one character delivers a monologue while the other Losers do things that relate to its content in a montage. By the third iteration of this plot device, it’s a tad tiresome. We get it, memory has power.
As mentioned before, the film’s end becomes a deluge of digital effects that are a lot less effective than they ought to be. An issue with 2017’s It was its excessive use of CGI that often betrayed its otherwise authentic 80s setting. For most of the sequel, the CGI is used effectively. One of Pennywise’s forms that terrorises Jessica Chastain’s Bev is genuinely one of the more horrifying things in recent cinema – appearing like something out of Junji Ito’s imagination. The CGI used for its appearance is remarkably startling. However, the excess becomes clear by the film’s end as sequences become almost entirely digital.
It’s noteworthy that Pennywise’s most effective appearances are those with the least amount of digital augmentation. When Pennywise appears before Bill Hader’s Richie, it’s scary because Pennywise is just a simple clown. While I’m certain some augmentation was added to his eyes, scenes like these are, for the most part, just Bill Skarsgard’s performance and the makeup appliance. They’re a simple but winning combination.
It Chapter Two is a fun, if mixed, sequel. It improves on its characters in its pitch-perfect casting, and the performances are highly commendable. Bill Hader and James Ransone are both excellent as Richie and Eddie, respectively. Hader adds a much-needed depth to the otherwise purely comically-oriented Richie. The film’s pacing is mostly very good, and is helped by the performances. The digital effects grow tiresome, but they don’t quite take away the power of Skarsgard’s portrayal of the dancing clown. Despite flaws, this is certainly worth seeing. Recommended.