At 1,138 pages (with an audiobook that requires a 45-hour listen), Stephen King’s It is a monster of a novel, so it’s no surprise director Andy Muschietti split the book into two movies at its natural breaking point—2017’s Chapter One follows the Losers Club, a group of seven kids who join forces to fight off Pennywise the murderous clown, and Chapter Two brings them all back as grown-ups.
Clocking in at a too-long 169 minutes, the film has plenty of time to crumble under its own weight and fall victim to bizarre plot points (several of which are ultimately pointless) devised by screenwriter Gary Dauberman. Whether a fan of King’s novel or not, you will likely find yourself scratching your head or frustrated (or both). Not only does the film have a hard time finding a consistent tone (over-the-top horrific violence butts up against guffaw-inducing comedy), but it leaves out much of the better points of the novel and instead replaces them with nonsensical additions and revisions that do nothing to forward the story (or save time, if that’s what Dauberman was hoping to do).
The sequel picks up 27 years later, as the cyclical spate of violence returns to sleepy Derry, Maine. Of the original kid crew, only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) never moved away, instead spending the past decades studying the dark history of the town to find a way to defeat Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
When the brutal hate-crime beating of Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) becomes a murder at the hands of the sadistic clown, Mike knows it’s time to get the gang back together, share what he’s discovered, and finally finish the job. Only one member of the Loser’s Club doesn’t make the trip; Stan (Andy Bean), commits suicide after getting Mike’s call, unable to revisit the terror that almost killed him as a child, but Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), and Bill (James McAvoy) meet up, along with Ben (Jay Ryan) and Eddie (James Ransone).
Shortly after they arrive in Derry, they individually come face-to-face with Pennywise in a series of drawn-out scenes that are often punctuated by a gratuitous jump scare. Sure, It is a horror movie, but what made the book such a classic of the genre is its subtle creepiness coupled with the themes of lost innocence and nostalgia (all of which helped make Chapter One a near faultless success). Unfortunately very little made it into the sequel, despite an almost mind-boggling reliance of flashbacks—some of which were entire scenes we’d already seen in the first film).
What Chapter Two has going for it is a top-notch cast, including Hader, who steals the movie right out from under everyone else. A pair of perfect cameos and a running meta-joke about well-known authors not being able to write a good ending also elevate the film at least a little. Ultimately, though, Chapter Two winds up as a promise unfulfilled—a let-down after the well-crafted first film proved there was indeed a way to bring (at least half of) King’s tour de force to life.