It Chapter Two takes place 27 years after the end of the last installment, when a group of youngsters killed a murderous demonic clown and vowed to be best friends forever.
Times change. The clown is not really dead, and the small-town Maine friends are estranged and scattered all over the country.
Most remember nothing of what occurred three decades earlier, or even that they made a promise to reassemble if the clown were to reappear. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained in Derry to check for signs of psycho clown activity, and when they appear, he summons the gang, whose repressed childhood memories have concealed everything but the bone-deep sense of obligation to one another. They understand that their pasts have mortgaged the future, and Pennywise wants his balloon payment.
So they come kicking and eventually screaming back to Derry, Maine, as adults, and the movie’s main pleasure is its casting. Fearless flame-haired ringleader Beverly is played by cinema’s most formidable redhead, Jessica Chastain, and wisecracking Richie, making his living as a stand-up comedian, has grown up to be Bill Hader.
The character Bill has grown up to be a novelist, played by James McAvoy (he’s gone from Split to It and now has nowhere to go but a eponymous biography of Mr. T). The movie’s in-joke is that he’s on a movie set quarreling with a director (insert famous director cameo here) who wants to alter Bill’s work — a nod to It author Stephen King’s legendary dissatisfaction with most Hollywood adaptations of his material.
There is a lot of this winking and joking in Chapter Two — it’s full of comic moments that are intended to relieve tension, except the movie’s horror style is tongue-in-cheek (and tongue-out-of-cheek), with a tone that may remind you of the Sam Raimi Evil Dead movies.
All of this tends to clash with scenes that exist to remind us that there is real evil at work in Derry and in the world — a brutal attack on a gay couple, explicit domestic abuse, the occasional child murder, and flashbacks that remind us Beverly was sexually abused by her father.
Beverly and the other characters must revisit the horrors of their past and collect some artifact that defines their years as bullied members of the so-called Losers Club — the totems are key to clown Pennywise’s demise. So the narrative splinters to follow each character on a separate adventure in which the person is taunted by illusion-creating Pennywise (played in his clown form by Bill Skarsgård), so it’s one long fake-out hallucination after another.
The artifice lowers the stakes and makes the enterprise seem to take forever, so we retroactively laugh at Mike’s urgent language in the prologue.
“You’d better hurry," he says. “We don’t have much time.”
As you may have heard, the movie runs two hours and 45 minutes and has more endings than Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Your fear that the movie will never end is the most palpable fear offered by Chapter Two, which substitutes spectacle for the creeping, escalating dread the story is meant to have, and that the first movie had in modest amounts.
It does not help that the movie invests so much time in a Pennywise-origins story that surely looks far sillier on film than it reads in the book, though we do learn that the Ritual of Chud is actually pronounced “Chood”
Fud for thought.
It Chapter Two. Directed by Andy Muschietti. With Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James McAvoy. Distributed by New Line Cinema.
Running time: 2 hours, 45 mins.
Parents’ guide: R (violence, language)