Arts, Features

Review: “It Chapter Two” delivers in scares, lacks in substance

When “It” hit theaters two years ago, it quickly became a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest grossing horror movie of all time. When it was revealed that the 2017 film would only be the first installment in a two-part series, fans began anxiously awaiting the sequel.

Bill Skarsgård at the 2018 Comic Con hosted at the San Diego Convention Center. Skarsgård reprises his role as evil clown Pennywise in “IT Chapter Two,” the sequel to the 2017 film “It” based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. COURTESY OF GAGE SKIDMORE VIA FLICKR

Pennywise, the killer clown, was coming back. And, as of Friday, September 6, the “It: Chapter Two” release date, he has. 

Both “It” and “It Chapter Two” are based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name, which followed a group of adolescent kids, referred to as the “Losers Club,” as they battle an evil clown named Pennywise. The 1,500-page novel also sees the Losers Club return to their hometown 27 years after their first encounter with Pennywise only to end up battling him again.

“It Chapter Two” begins by revealing to the audience that six out of seven original Losers Club members have moved away from their hometown of Derry, Maine — and they also seem to have forgotten the traumatic events of their childhood.

Mike, the only Losers Club member to remain in Derry and therefore retain his memories of the incident, begins to notice the signs of Pennywise’s return and calls his former friends back to the town. Since “It” was set in 1989, “It Chapter Two” picks up 27 years later in 2016.

Mike, played by Isaiah Mustafa, has done his research. He helps the rest of the losers remember what happened all those years ago and explains to them that they each must retrieve a token that represents their childhood experiences. 

From here, the film’s formula mimics its predecessor. Each of the losers must face their own trauma alone before joining together at the end to battle Pennywise as a team. This may make the film seem lazy and predictable — to a certain extent, it is. However, the nature of “It’s” narrative is cyclical, and the film’s structure does its best to follow this. 

Each of the adults are cast to perfection. All of the adult losers are believable grown up versions of their younger selves. James McAvoy plays Bill Denbrough, now a successful horror writer, whose stutter has mostly been reined in, but still shows itself in particularly frightful situations. Jessica Chastain plays Beverly Marsh, who has fallen into an abusive marriage that closely resembles her relationship with her father.

Each of the adult losers play their role well, but none of them hit the mark quite like Bill Hader. Much like Finn Wolfhard’s younger version of Richie Tozier, Hader carries the bulk of the film’s comic relief. In a film that otherwise offers few moments of respite, his acting is some of the most enjoyable. 

Bill Skarsgård returns as Pennywise and delivers another brilliant, career-defining performance. Skarsgård disappears within the character entirely, portraying the clown in many different, terrifying ways. While the film is full of monsters and nightmares of all different sorts, the scenes with Pennywise are the most captivating. 

“It Chapter Two” feels like a summer blockbuster first and a horror movie second. The film focuses more on spectacle and shock rather than dread or any real terror. Aside for those with an acute phobia of clowns, it’s not the kind of horror that’s going to stay in your nightmares for weeks to come. It’s pulpy and fun, meant for entertainment more than scares. 

“It Chapter Two” also relies too much on special effects, especially in the scenes where each of the Losers revisit their past. Nearly all of “It’s” forms are warped, disproportionate CGI monsters. 

Despite its failings, the film is easy to engage with all the way through. There’s plenty of laughs and despite the outrageous computer-generated monsters, there’s plenty of sink-down-in-your-chair scares. It’s weird — the story introduces aliens and Native American rituals thirty minutes in — but, overall, it’s fun. 

The film’s most disappointing aspect is its lack of heart. It certainly tries to recapture that magic the first film had, which has been described as a coming-of-age story comparable to legends like “Stand By Me.” 

The second film tries to capture this with plenty of dialogue about growing up, maintaining friendships and remembering the good along with the bad, but none of it feels nearly as sincere as the lessons the kids learned in the first film. 

Instead, what you’re left with is an enjoyable movie event, that, much like the overproduced monsters it features, is all bark and no bite. There’s nothing of substance here, emotional or otherwise. This keeps it from being as good as the first movie. 

“It” was elevated by its genuineness and only supplemented by its silly and over-the-top scares. “It Chapter Two” has nothing but the latter.

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