Much like It, Andy Muschietti’s follow-up, Chapter 2, is a triumph of production design, a meticulously rendered, at times morbidly beautiful film that is never less than captivating to look at. Whether it be the make-up effects that bring its villainous clown Pennywise to life, the rundown, hovel-chic house where he resides or the elaborately rendered nightmare trips to the past that haunt its protagonists, the movie is always visually engaging. At least there’s that, as the screenplay by Gary Dauberman, based on the novel by Stephen King, is a rather thin affair. It’s a repetitious piece of work that wastes far too much time covering the same ground and not nearly enough explaining some key factors that would have provided some much-needed clarity to the proceedings.
If you were one of the seven or eight people on the planet who did not see the first film, no worries. A concise summation of all that occurred and a reintroduction to all of the key players is done quickly and efficiently. No time is wasted establishing that the nefarious, thought-to-be-vanquished Pennywise is indeed back in business, terrorizing the children of the cursed town of Derry and appearing in the dreams of the Losers – the gang of kids in the first film who have now grown up and separated. The only one of them who stayed behind, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), recognizes that this evil has returned and calls his cohorts home, reminding them of a promise they’d wish he’d forgotten – to return to Derry to battle Pennywise again, if the need arises.
Bill (James McAvoy) has become a successful writer, Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer, Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comic, Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect and Eddie (James Ransone) works in risk management. They all reluctantly gather in their old hometown, except one, Stanley (Andy Bean), who commits suicide rather than return (File him under “Bad Friend, Smart Guy”). They are informed by Mike that, after investigating local Native American lore, they each have to recover a token from their past and burn them together as part of a ceremony to finally kill Pennywise.
The story becomes fragmented at this point as each of the characters go their separate ways, visit old haunts and end up having to revisit old nightmares and be terrorized by the omnipresent clown for their trouble. These events comprise most of the movie’s second hour (it clocks in at just under three), which for the most part, is very effective. The film hits its stride here with one genuine jolt after another, of particular note a sequence in which Beverly revisits the apartment where she once lived to find a new tenant who’s more (or is it less?) than she seems and a scene in which Bill finds himself trapped in a hall of mirrors with Pennywise. Muschietti presses all the right buttons here, giving viewers exactly what they paid for.
Yet, as we've seen time and again, you can always overdo a good thing. The movie's last hour has our heroic group return to Pennywise's house for the final throw-down, where they are promptly separated and forced to revisit old nightmares and be terrorized by the omnipresent clown. Sound familiar? The third act is basically a duplicate of the second and becomes an exercise in overkill and delay. We know the fate that awaits Pennywise, and in putting it off, its impact is dulled and almost anticlimactic. As a way of distracting us from this narrative déjà vu, Muschietti ups the gore factor to the point that it's almost comical, while the movie's villain becomes hard to swallow when he's running around on giant crab legs. Really, it all becomes quite silly by the end.
The movie’s biggest mistake is its reliance on gore at the expense of narrative clarity. Far too little is said about Pennywise’s background, origin or purpose. It’s hinted at, but never fleshed out as to why he does what he does or for what reason. The explanation from King’s novel, as ridiculous as it is, is at least something. Here, Pennywise is nothing more than that gruesome figure that pops out once you turn the corner you didn’t want to turn in a haunted house.
Missed opportunities and lost storytelling dog It: Chapter 2, a movie that desperately wants to be taken seriously, yet succeeds only in becoming a parody of what it longs to be.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.