It Chapter 2 has officially arrived in theaters. It's the follow-up to 2017's wildly successful and acclaimed It adaptation, but does the sequel live up to those standards? Read on for our full review and then check out our look at the ending and spoiler review chat.
Stephen King novels are notoriously tough to adapt, but It ranks up there among the most challenging--and, unfortunately, the modern movie adaptation does not make it look or feel any easier. From the start, director Andy Muschietti made the tricky (and slightly controversial) choice to divide the source material's dueling past-and-present timelines up into two movies: Chapter 1, which hit theaters back in 2017 and dealt exclusively with the "kids plot" of the book set in 1989, and this year's It Chapter 2, which deals with the "adults plot" set 27 years later.
The decision paid off beautifully for Chapter 1, transforming the cerebral novel into a Goonies-flavored coming-of-age adventure with a cast of magnetic, scrappy, lovable kids who faced off against a monster and learned all sorts of lessons about life, love, and friendship along the way. In Chapter 2, however, the cracks in the concept begin to show, and ultimately, the final chapter fails to maintain the spark of the first, succumbing to a dangerous cocktail of muddled timelines, poorly placed novel call-backs, and scattered focus.
It Chapter 2 isn't a total loss. The adult cast, made up of James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean, and Jay Ryan, all manage to embody believable grown-up versions of the kids in Chapter 1. Their chemistry is electric, their humor is pitch-perfect, and their ensemble scenes are far and away the strongest part of the movie. It's hard not to love the Losers' Club, even all these years later.
Unfortunately, their ensemble scenes are peppered relatively sparingly around long, long stretches of contrived side quests that force each Loser to break off on their own to re-live some of their repressed childhood memories. Said repressed memories usually come as a package deal with flashbacks--and while it wasn't a bad idea to spend chunks of this movie with the kids of Chapter 1 again, these scenes start to feel redundant almost immediately. Each Loser seems stuck in a feedback loop, forced to rehash the same beats and learn the same lessons we already saw them learn the first time around.
Bill's still sad about losing his brother, Eddie's still scared of infection and germs, Bev's still grappling with the memory of her monstrous father. The exception to this rule is Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), who is the only one of the Losers to get an entirely new arc. His new story is arguably the most personal and interesting choice Chapter 2 has going for it, bolstered astronomically by Hader giving one of the best--if not the best--performances of the ensemble, but the movie never actually commits to his spotlight. Instead, Richie frustratingly remains a side character, playing second-stringer to the endlessly repeated Chapter 1 comfort food like Ben's perpetual, one-sided infatuation with Bev.
That strange tug-of-war between new and old ideas doesn't start or end there. Whole scenes of Chapter 2 are lifted directly from the source material with little or no thought given to how or where they fit into the dual movie's new dynamics. Entire subplots, like the Henry Bowers storyline, pick up and meander around aimlessly, every so often stopping to wink at the camera and say "hey, remember this from the book?" before they peter out without payoff. Meanwhile, some of the newer plot points--like a totally reimagined "Ritual Of Chüd," a magic ceremony used in the novel but kept out of Chapter 1--divorce themselves so completely from the source material and become so unrecognizable that it's honestly baffling that they managed to make it into the final cut at all.
In terms of scares, Chapter 2 delivers about 60% of the time. Bill Skarsgard has returned to reprise the role of Pennywise the clown, and he's just as uncanny and unsettling as he was the first time around. He even manages to stay as menacing and as threatening scaring a bunch of 40-year-olds as he did terrorizing a bunch of pre-teens--so that's certainly an achievement. However, for every genuinely amazing scare Chapter 2 has to offer, there are two more marred by awkward CGI or predictable jumps.
Tonally, Chapter 2 is similarly all over the place. There are almost too many laughs peppered in to undercut the tension--they start to feel forced and artificial. Where the kids were able to get away with mile-a-minute wisecracks by virtue of being, well, kids, the adults have a harder time pulling it off. It's not that the jokes themselves aren't funny--they absolutely are--but there really ought to have been fewer of them, if only to make the terror more effective.
Everything culminates into a series of final scenes that embody the best and the worst of the movie: Nothing entirely matches up or makes sense, but it's still fun as hell to watch these characters come together to face down a terrifying clown monster. Even if the logic doesn't work, you'll still desperately want the Losers to come out on top.