While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Andy Muschietti’s first instalment of Stephen King‘s It, released in 2017, I did enjoy it but never found it particularly scary. Where it succeeded was in the casting of the child actors, taking the lead from Stranger Things, all the young cast had great chemistry and their friendship felt true to the tone of King’s novel.
Set 27 years after the events of the first film, IT Chapter Two follows the now adult gang, as they are called back to their hometown of Derry. Evil has returned, and the Losers must honour the oath they made in their childhood; to return and defeat It once and for all.
The casting of the adult gang is perfect. As Eddie, James Ransone could have been cast entirely due to his uncanny resemblance to Jack Dylan Grazer, and has perfected all of Grazer’s mannerisms. The actors all acquit themselves well, with James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain comfortably slipping into their roles, however, for me, they often feel like stock characters rather than real people. Isaiah Mustafah‘s Mike in particular seems to exist more as exposition than anything else.
The only fully dimensional, relatable character is Bill Hader‘s Richie. His combative relationship with Eddie is one of the film’s genuine sources of humour and the pay off is poignant and touching, the added crinkle in Richie’s character could have felt forced, but it works thanks to Hader’s performance. The best scenes remain those featuring the young cast, especially ones that expand the role of Stanley, (Wyatt Oleff) who was the least developed in the first film. Here his presence is felt more, and these scenes really help flesh him out.
There are some great set-pieces, which look especially impressive on an IMAX screen; some are lifted from the novel (the controversial opening scene is taken verbatim from the book) and some new, but while these are atmospheric and memorable individually, when each character has to have their own encounter with Pennywise, it gets a little repetitive. Worse for a horror film, at three hours long it starts to feel boring.
Also, while the sequel ups the gore quotient significantly, for me there’s little in the way of genuine scares. The effects are amazing, and this is certainly a film improved through experiencing it in IMAX. It really adds to the nightmarish set-pieces, and makes Pennywise even more imposing. However the scary moments are superficial and too often undercut by a joke. Tonally the film is all over the place; there are some injections of humour that completely dilute the tension, including a jarring sample of Angel Of The Morning that ruins a genuinely intense moment. This continues with several groan-inducing references to The Thing and The Shining, that are so on-the-nose they really take you out of the film.
It doesn’t help that Pennywise is a frustrating villain with inconsistent powers – it’s never explained why he doesn’t kill them when he has the chance and eventually the tension just drains away. That he is an effective villain is entirely due to Skarsgard’s performance. He remains an unpredictable, sinister villain and original enough that he doesn’t invite comparisons with Tim Curry’s iconic performance.
While changes from the book are understandable, the excision of certain characters does hurt the story. Annoyingly, Henry Bowers’ role is diminished to the point where you wonder why he’s even there. Also, the book’s ending is one of the most heartbreaking and bittersweet that King ever wrote. Here it’s disappointingly conventional and feels underwhelming after what the characters have been through.
IT Chapter Two is unfortunately less than the sum of its parts. It’s atmospheric, really affecting in places and is more or less a faithful adaptation. It’s elevated by great performances and beautiful production design, but let down by the overlong runtime and uneven tone. Crucially though, like the first film, it’s just not that scary.
The IMAX release of IT Chapter Two will be digitally re-mastered into the image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience® with proprietary IMAX DMR® (Digital Re-mastering) technology. The crystal-clear images, coupled with IMAX’s customised cinema geometry and powerful digital audio, create a unique environment that will make audiences feel as if they are in the movie.
IT Chapter Two is out now in IMAX and UK/Irish cinemas across the UK.
Book now: imax.com/movies/it-chapter-two