“It Chapter Two” (Rated C)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, Bill Skarsgard
Never as good as the first time!
That’s absolutely true of some – but certainly not all – things in life.
Nevertheless, we say it all the time. And knowing how incessantly sequels pop up in theaters, I’ve probably used this very line at least once to introduce a movie review.
Regardless, it fits perfectly in describing “It Chapter Two” – the much-anticipated follow up to 2017’s thrilling “It”, based on horror-master Stephen King’s novel.
“Chapter Two” isn’t a sequel in the typical Hollywood sense of the phrase; it wasn’t something whipped up to capitalize on the success of a picture. It was decided from the very beginning that this first ever big screen adaptation of King’s 1,138-page bestseller from 1986 would be split into two films.
Not your average brainless horror flick, “It” was also a fun, coming-of-age story about a group of teenage outcasts calling themselves the “Losers’ Club”, who band together to face their greatest fears, manifesting themselves in the form of Pennywise, an evil, homicidal clown.
As you may recall, that ancient shape-shifting demonic spirit emerges every 27 years to prey on children in the town of Derry, Maine.
For “It Chapter Two”, we pick up 27 years later in 2016. Pennywise returns to terrorize Derry once again. Now adults, the Losers’ Club members have long since gone their separate ways. But when people start disappearing, Mike Hanlon (played as an adult by Isaiah Mustafa – the Old Spice guy) calls the others home for one final stand. Damaged by scars from the past, the united Losers must conquer their deepest fears to destroy the shape-shifting Pennywise, who’s now more powerful than ever.
You don’t have to have seen “It” to appreciate “Chapter Two”. But then you’d have missed out on a very special movie, so I wouldn’t recommend skipping it.
However, if the latter is the first hand you’ve been dealt, this well put together film will get you up to speed soon enough. Even for fans of the original, it’s a little tough to figure out which characters the adult actors are playing, but helpful flashbacks and new scenes featuring the child actors put the pieces of the puzzle together.
That adult cast includes Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Emmy-winner Bill Hader, and Bill Skarsgard is back, and as frightening as ever, as Pennywise.
The horror aspect is ratcheted up a bit, at least in terms of production values. But perhaps because very young characters were in danger with the first film, somehow the new one just doesn’t feel quite as scary. It’s also not quite as fun, nor quite as funny.
One thing “Chapter Two” does have over “It” is length, and perhaps a little too much of it – nearly three hours (169 minutes), compared to an also pretty long 135 minutes for the previous outing.
This isn’t to say that the new film isn’t good. It is undeniably entertaining: well-acted, well-produced and well-directed. But there was something very bold and magical about “It” that seems to have vanished from “Chapter Two”, like so many of the children from Derry, Maine.
And especially a little while after you leave the theater and think about what you’ve just done for nearly three hours, “Chapter Two”, more than anything, really makes you want to revisit the very impressive “It” for the first time, all over again.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.