Does the second half of Stephen King’s sprawling, epic horror story live up to the promise of 2017’s It? Would it sink or float? After all, “they all float down here,” right? Unfortunately, It Chapter 2 is an overlong, bloated, messy, loud, often silly movie.
It was the sort of Mission: Impossible or Fast and Furious of horror movies: big, loud, formulaic, and entertaining as all get-out. It anchored all of its over-the-top horror set pieces with some fine performances by its mostly unknown teen cast. But the real crowning achievement of the first chapter was that it reimagined the original, iconic performance by Tim Curry of Pennywise. In this new version of It, Pennywise, as played masterfully by Bill Skarsgård, combined a skewed humor and truly twisted menace. Not since Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker had audiences been so blown-away by a new take on a previously thought untouchable performance of a character.
Usually, when sequels go awry, there has been a change in some key element, but most of the driving forces for the original’s success are here: Andy Muschietti is back as director, Bill Skarsgård is back as Pennywise, all of the teen actors reprise their roles. To add to the promise, this movie has a fine adult cast, acting as the grown up versions of the members of the Loser’s Club, most notably Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader. Where It Chapter 2 goes sideways is in the story, which makes one glaring omission from the original production stand out: Cary Fukunaga as co-writer. Gary Dauberman is back as the main writer of this installment, but the lack of Fukunaga, I’m afraid, hurts this effort greatly.
The first chapter of It, followed a basic, yet effective, plot structure. We meet each member of the Loser’s Club, find out their fears, see their fears in some sort of horror set piece, then watch as the characters join forces to solve the mystery of evil in Derry, Maine, eventually facing off against the evil clown, Pennywise.
In It Chapter 2, we meet the adult versions of the Loser’s Club, 27 years after the events of the first film. Mike) Isaiah Mustafa) is the only one of the group who stayed back in Derry, and apparently the only one who remembers what happened before. He reaches out to the group and, in Avengers fashion, gets them to unite for a final battle with Pennywise. Ok, fine so far. Sure, the former Loser’s Club members all seem very successful now. One would think at least some of them wouldn’t be notable, but we’ll go with it.
On their first night together, all of our heroes reconnect, and start to remember, while enjoying dinner at a Chinese restaurant. This scene is the first red flag, signalling how this movie is going to go off-the-rails. The banter is supposed to be funny and heartfelt. The music grows to overbearing, schmaltzy levels, to tell us how to feel, but it all seems forced. And then, when the dinner erupts into supposedly-scary, Pennywise-inspired, visions of horror, it ends up being laughably ridiculous. CGI creatures crawling out of fortune cookies? Kids heads floating in fish tanks, mocking our heroes? Yep, all of that and more. I won’t spoil any subsequent horror moments, but most of them are more of the “fortune cookie silliness” variety than the surrealistic horror of the first movie.
The story continues to devolve into a video game sort of plot, where each character needs to find a talisman of his or her past and bring it to a Native American vision inspired Ritual of Chud. I’m not kidding. Thus, Scooby Doo style, each character goes on a mission, has a flashback, then escapes some even sillier CGI menace than the previous one. Each time we get a flashback, we are reminded of how much charm and chemistry the child cast had, as well as how much more emotionally resonant and grounded the previous movie was.
Throughout the movie, one character, now a horror author, is constantly chided for his bad endings. This is supposed to be a sly knock on the notably uninspired finale of the original movie version of It. I guess the filmmakers are trying to say, “don’t worry, we won’t let you down.” Sorry, It Chapter 2, the ending is still horrible (laughably so).
As the surviving characters walk into the sunset of It Chapter 2, it’s fitting that Nightmare on Elm Street 5 is featured prominently on a marquee, because this movie is equally tired, having somehow transformed Pennywise from unnerving and scary to a sad joke in only two movies. Save yourself a 3 hour slog in theaters and wait for the Youtube compilation of the silliest bits.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5