The Losers are all grown up and back together in Derry, Maine for It Chapter Two, the concluding counterpart to 2017’s big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s wildly popular epic about childhood fears, friendships and the spectral force that takes shape as a balloon-happy killer clown named Pennywise.
In case you missed part one, never read the book or have somehow avoided the ubiquity of a hokey but charming 1990 TV mini-series version, It told the story of seven ’80s babies in a sleepy, podunk New England burg plagued by a string of child disappearances. Largely writing them off as runaways and without much more resolve to investigate the mystery aside from a curfew and some missing children’s posters, it’s almost as if the elder townspeople of Derry don’t even give a fuck that their young are vanishing.
Enter the Losers Club, seven 13-year-old kids brought together by random chance and who, as they will learn, share a common bond: each has survived a brush-up with Pennywise the Dancing Clown largely unscathed, at least physically speaking. On top of their individual struggles, they all seek to gain acceptance among the rest of their peers, and their bond as a group is forged almost immediately. While the adults of Derry carry on as if nothing’s really the matter, these kids have seen things no one would believe if they told them.
Flash forward 27 years and the not-so-lucky seven have grown apart to the point they barely remember the events of the summer of ’89. That is until Mike, the sole Loser to stay back in Derry, decides it’s time to ask them to make good on their promise to reunite if the monster ever returns.
Turns out the rest of the gang are doing quite alright in their post-clown-trauma lives. Stuttering Bill is a well-known horror novelist; Bev has a well-known fashion brand; Trashmouth Richie is a famous comedian; awkward but lovable Eddie has what appears to be a sweet set-up in risk management; former fatboy Ben is a hunky architect, and we never quite find out what naysaying Stanley does with his adult life, but he and the wife are off to Buenos Aires for the summer, so things seem pretty alright.
Mike, meanwhile, has taken the road less travelled — no road at all — staying behind in their hometown to ensure they finished the job. Having uncovered the grim fact that every 27 years or so since frontier times, Derry has been the scene of horrific tragedy (and notable clown sightings), his hunch that the Losers didn’t quite finish the job as adolescents proves, sadly, to be on point. More kids are missing and as the film opens, what first appears to be the scene of a savage hate crime contains a note in blood he recognizes as an invite for his friends to “come back home.”
The film hits the ground running faster than a nightmare spook, and if the whole two-hour-and-forty-seven-minute affair feels a little rushed, at least its pacing is consistent from beginning to end. This is, after all, a cinematic retelling of the back end of a 1,100-plus page novel. We are of course going to revisit the Losers’ childhoods in flashback scenes that not only enrich the pretty-darn-decent first chapter of the film, but also treat us to more screen time with the youthful cast of adolescent Losers, far and away the best thing about the last movie.
Well, them and Bill Skarsgård’s psycho-infant take on Pennywise. In this installment, Pennywise is less terrifying and used to less creepy effect as fodder for jumpscares and necessarily horrific imagery. Skarsgård’s menacing likeability is, comparatively, a little lost throughout most of his onscreen appearances this time out, but with a cast now doubled in size — and featuring fine performances from the middle-aged newcomers, most notably wiseguy SNL alum Bill Hader’s take on Richie and The Wire’s James Ransone as Eddie — I suppose it’s to be expected. Most of the charm here, though, is again wielded by the magic of the kiddos.
The film crams a lot in and, surprisingly enough, doesn’t really feel like a three-hour movie, owing perhaps to the non-stop, claustrophobically frenzied nightmare ride of the third act. Part-one screenwriter Cary Fukunaga bailed on the sequel, leaving Gary Dauberman solo this time out to pull it all together. The dialogue is a little lazy at times, but that said, fans of the source material should be left fairly satisfied by the script’s handling of some of the original story’s trickier otherworldly elements that It’s TV telling left totally down the sewer 30 years back.
“All living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit,” the film muses, and while the fanship for this story (certainly among the last of King’s truly great ones) doesn’t quite constitute an entity unto itself, It Chapter Two works within the logical parameters it set for itself last time out and may actually come out on top as the better of the two films if we’re talking about action and emotion.
In that regard, as a late-summer blockbuster, it stands beside Avengers: Endgame as a film worthy of one third of your waking day. The loose ends left sticking out will most likely be tied up like a plump red balloon in the rumoured one-piece redux we’re likely to see in the near future. Recent press interviews with director Andy Muschietti suggest the original cut of Chapter Two alone pushed four hours and that he’s not going to leave all that story on the cutting room floor forever. I, for one, would welcome the chance to pace out the whole affair from ’89 to ’16 over an afternoon or two of Netflix viewing when winter is getting long in the tooth.
And as the film likes to tease, largely by poking fun at the writing talents of Bill (and with a somewhat drole wink-nudge cameo from King himself), the slapped-on endings of It’s paperback and onscreen predecessor alike have left fans wanting. This time, the wrap is worth sticking around for. All in all, It Chapter Two, floats, too. ■
It Chapter Two opens in theatres on Friday, Sept. 6. Watch the trailer here: