The scariest part of “It: Chapter Two” may be its almost 3 hour running time, but the movie spreads its story out among its six protagonists well enough to keep you in the clutches of Pennywise the Clown and not the Sandman.
It’s been 30 years since I’ve read Stephen King’s novel, but what I admired about 2017’s “It” is what I liked about “Chapter Two:” writer Gary Dauberman and director Andy Muschetti try to stick faithfully to King’s book. Figuring “It’s” fantastical finale would have to change, they still manage to keep what they can and rightly focus “Chapter Two” on the friendship and reunion of the now-adult members of the Losers Club.
In 2017’s “It,” the Losers Club was a group of 13 year olds who banished a recurring evil in their hometown of Derry and vowed to return if ‘It’ resurfaced again (‘It’ returns every 27 years to lure and kill children in the form of a circus clown named Pennywise). “It: Chapter Two” begins 27 years later.
“Chapter Two’s” opening sequence is a scary highlight to usher in Pennywise’s return: a hate crime where a brutally-beaten man is thrown into a river and conversely thrown into Pennywise’s (Bill Skarsgard) hands as a sea of red balloons float overhead. When Derry police come upon a mutilated body and also find a child has gone missing, Loser Club member Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), still in Derry, knows the signs- it’s Pennywise. Mike reaches out to the now-grown Loser Club members to return to Derry and fulfill their promise to defeat ‘It’ once and for all.
The adult actors in “Chapter Two” are well-cast as the grown-up Losers Club (i.e. they look like their child actor counterparts from “It”): James McAvoy as stuttering Bill; Jessica Chastain as red-haired Bev; Bill Hader as ‘Trashmouth’ Ritchie- they’re all good. Since a lot of “Chapter Two” is their reconnecting with the past and drudging up painful memories to reclaim souvenirs to use collectively against Pennywise, the actors need to be watchable. Luckily, the script supports them with emotionally unnerving situations and they’re up to the challenge.
Occasionally, Pennywise puts obstacles in their way. Mostly, they’re grotesque creatures of the ‘jump-scare’ variety. It’s a weak contrast to the strength of watching characters take on past traumas but hey, what’s a monster movie without some weird-looking monsters, right?
Overall, “Chapter Two’s” a fitting end to King’s opus. While you may show up to see what Pennywise can make float, it’s the actors that keep you grounded.