In the two years since It was unleashed on the world, enthusiasm for the second half of the story has been high. The bar was set and many wondered if director Andy Muschietti could recapture the same magic he had elicited from his child stars with their adult counterparts? The answer is: sort of.
It: Chapter Two finds the Losers Club 27 years after their first encounter with It. Pennywise. The ultimate nightmare. Six of them long ago left Derry, Maine with their families and subsequently left behind all memories of the terrors and friendships that resided there. Only one remained, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa). When it is clear that Pennywise has returned, he calls them all back home and they know it is a call they can’t ignore.
One of the biggest challenges heading into It: Chapter Two was the simple fact that the adult side of Stephen King’s tome was never as interesting as the kids’ story. Both the novel and the infamous 1990 TV adaptation mingle the plots as the grown up Losers are called back to face a threat they didn’t remember. Those versions unfold as the adults slowly begin to recall the horrors they faced and the pact they made lo those many years before.
Muschietti, though, took a different approach to this telling, and opinions vary on which way is better. Splitting It into two separate films was something of a risk. Particularly when the adults weren’t cast until long after audiences had fallen in love with the middle schoolers. But focusing that entire first film on their experiences made for a terrific movie and gave these young up-and-comers a chance to shine in a way they might otherwise have lost if their introduction forced them to share the screen with established stars.
And this second half, It: Chapter Two (written by Gary Dauberman), does focus the story on the grown up Losers, while still finding ways — some clever, some not as much — to link them to the kids. As we catch up with each of our old friends, it is almost shocking to see how great the casting really was.
James McAvoy might be the least inspired as he takes up Jaeden Martell’s (né Lieberher) Bill Denbrough. Bill was the de facto leader of the group as they essentially became the tightknit team when he sought answers after his little brother Georgie died. McAvoy is fine in the role, but takes a definite step back into a more subdued position. In fact, in some ways it felt as though Bill could have been excised from the story and little would have changed. Perhaps this is a misstep, but really, it just gave a greater opportunity for some of his co-stars to shine.
A couple, in particular, stood out from this crowd. Bill Hader has been enjoying a year of surging popularity as fans have apparently rediscovered him in 2019. It’s not a Hader-saince, since he never went anywhere, but the sudden, incessant love for him is welcome and overdue. Hader stars as Richie Tozier, the character introduced by Finn Wolfhard who was the only one of the kids whose casting wish was granted. Hader’s take on Richie is very funny and apt as he frequently says the kinds of things we would all be thinking in that situation.
One problem with the adult version of Richie, though, is not at all Hader’s fault. There are hints from his initial reintroduction that Richie is gay. As time goes on, it becomes more clear that this is the direction they’re heading. And yet, Dauberman’s script and Muschietti’s directorial choices stop short of ever overtly outing him. Considering a very dramatic and frightening scene that involves a brutal attack on a homosexual couple, it’s disappointing and unfortunate that they would let such a scene hang unrevisited, and allow Richie’s sexuality to be just vague enough for homophobic viewers to dismiss it. But this is not a reflection on Bill Hader, who plays the character with immense heart and conviction.
James Ransone is an eerily perfect choice for Eddie Kaspbrak, the adorably foul-mouthed hypochondriac who was such a standout when played by Jack Dylan Grazer. For many viewers, Ransone is a new face, having worked in less known films and a bit of television. His face is a welcome one as he embodies everything we loved about Eddie in the first place, with all his anxieties and co-dependence on the women in his life. (In fact, his wife is played by Molly Atkinson who, quite fittingly, also played his mother in the first film.)
Isaiah Mustafa’s version of Mike Hanlon is good, but the character falls into the same trap he always has. It’s unfortunate that the only significant person of color in this story gets shortchanged by it, first as a kid who never felt like he was welcomed fully into the Losers Club, and now as an adult, the only one to stay behind and carry the burden of remembering.
The rest of the group is made up of Jessica Chastain as Beverly, Jay Ryan as Ben, and Andy Bean as Stan. They don’t stand out as much as their friends, although Chastain has one scene—used to great effect in the teaser trailer—that gives her the chance to show off how good she is even without a lot of dialogue. But Bill Skarsgård continues to prove himself as a gifted actor who gives us a very different take on Pennywise than Tim Curry did.
It: Chapter Two isn’t the type of film to change horror forever. It isn’t whatever hyperbolic adjective people like to lay on every new genre film that hits theaters. But it is a satisfying look at the way we process grief, particularly when that process is delayed by suppressed memories. It is also an examination of the way we do and do not change throughout our lives and how past traumas, even when we’ve forgotten them, impact the people we become.
Sure, the visual effects may be cheesier and sometimes less horrifying than in the first film. But that feels like an intentional choice. Why does Pennywise go after children? Because it is easier for him to scare them. Not that childhood fears are scarier, but that whatever mystical, extra-terrestrial force imbues him with his power and his hunger simply works better on children. And therefore when the adults face him down, it just looks different. Many of the things we feared as children look far different through our grown up eyes.
It: Chapter Two is as good a sequel as we ever could have hoped after the heights reached by its predecessor. One that accomplishes what it needs to without overstaying its welcome—even with a nearly three hour runtime.