It Chapter Two review: an ambitious horror blockbuster

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the sewers… Pennywise returns in this bombastic Stephen King sequel

An A-list cast. A 2 hour 45 minute runtime. The follow up to the highest-grossing horror movie of all time, based on a beloved bestseller. It Chapter Two isn’t just any scary movie. In fact, in genre terms, it’s the closest we’ve had to a top-tier tentpole ever, so there was always going to be a lot riding on it. 

In terms of scale, ambition and scope, It Chapter Two goes all out, with increasingly gross and spectacular set pieces, arcs, trials and torments for each of its main characters and plenty of flashbacks featuring the young cast. It’s a pacey, if episodic, romp that never drags despite its epic runtime and feels true to the spirit of the book, while not sticking religiously to the letter of the text. Does it all work? Well no, not quite, but it’s an impressive cinematic horror event nonetheless.

Picking up 27 years after the events of Chapter One, each member of the now-grown-up Losers Club except Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has left Derry. The further away they are from the horrible events in the sewers all those years ago, the more their memories wane. It’s only when a horrific homophobic attack occurs that Mike realises the ancient evil has resurfaced – and it’s time for the Losers to make good on that blood pact they made when they were kids.

We’re swiftly and efficiently introduced to the grown-up cast through glimpses of their adult lives, all somewhat damaged by the effects of their childhood trauma. Reunited back in Derry, a meal at a Chinese restaurant (teased quite heavily in the trailers) quickly turns disturbing (and disgusting) as the group slowly begins to remember what went before, and what they must now do to defeat Pennywise (a returning Bill Skarsgard). 

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The grown-up casting in the second part is spot-on. Fan-cast well ahead of any announcements, it looks like director Andy Muschietti got his (and the internet’s) first choices pretty much across the board, and without exception they are never less than completely convincing as adult versions of the excellent young cast. Bill Hader as the mature Richie ‘trash-mouth’ Tozier is possibly the stand-out, though James Ransone’s performance as anxious Eddie Kaspbrak is full of pathos. Only Mike and Stan (Andy Bean) feel a bit short-changed, though in both cases this is somewhat down to the plot.

Cleaving close to the narrative of the novel, Muschietti makes some smart choices when it comes to moments he’s left out, and others he’s added in. Only the ending, which differs from the book, feels undercooked. While the conclusion to the novel is fairly widely accepted as a bit of a let-down, Muschietti tries a slightly different tack, which is no less unsatisfying and has logical problems to boot. It’s something of a whimper to conclude an otherwise epic adventure. 

It Chapter Two is heavy on the CGI and ramps up the spectacle of the first film, leaning hard into body horror and jump scare territory. It’s packed with effectively icky and frequently unsettling set pieces, as each Loser must confront a horror from the past in order to retrieve an artefact that will allow them to defeat the evil, shape-shifting Pennywise. 

Skarsgard has made the role his own, veering away from Tim Curry’s iconic take from the 1990 miniseries, but while his uncanny, giggling, broken-child interpretation worked well in Chapter One, here it veers too far towards cartoonish, at times venturing almost into Beetlejuice territory. Fortunately, other forms he takes to put the willies up the gang work better, with Beverley’s (Jessica Chastain) encounter with an old lady in her former home the highlight. Whether you find part two more or less scary than part one will likely depend on your relationship with clowns and how comfortable you are with CGI and with goop. 

While the runtime is undeniably long, it’s no less earned than any other bumper blockbuster – format-wise, it’s repetitive at times but never boring. In fact, It Chapter Two is just as colourful, bombastic and sprawling as anything you’ll see from the Marvel stable and its super-team is equally grounded in character and heart. Like its comic-book counterparts often do, It Chapter Two will be getting an extended director’s cut, adding back in some of the footage that was excised from the film’s original four-hour running time. For fans who can’t get enough of the Derryverse, there’ll be plenty more to pore over. 

Short, sharp shocks, then, this is not. But for a genre movie forging a new cinematic path, It Chapter Two is daring, entertaining and mainstream – but still unashamedly horror. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 27 years for another one.

Rating:

4 out of 5