‘It: Chapter Two’ Outdoes Its Predecessor With Gore and Scares

While middle school is rarely a cakewalk for anyone, for the ragtag group known as the Losers, these early teen years were especially traumatic, thanks in no small part to a certain killer clown. The story of this group from Derry, Main continues in “It: Chapter Two,” the sequel to 2017’s “It,” both based on the novel by Stephen King. 27 years after they first defeated Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), he has returned and is up to his old murderous ways. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs as a child), the only Loser who has remained in Derry and is now the town librarian, quickly takes notice of what’s happening and takes it upon himself to round up the old gang. Whether they like it or not, they have to defeat Pennywise once again, as they pledged to all those years ago.

While many people who had seen what the Losers had seen would probably be spending their adulthood drinking in the gutter, the gang has mostly found success. Richie (Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard), once a foul-mouthed youth, is now a popular stand-up comic. Beverly (Jessica Chastain, Sophia Lillis) is a fashion designer, Bill (James McAvoy, Jaeden Martell) is a best-selling author, Eddie (James Ransone, Jack Dylan Grazer) is a risk analyst, and Ben (Jay Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor) is an architect. The latter has gone through the biggest transformation, at least physically, as the former chubby kid is now a full-blown hunk. He still has lingering feelings for Beverly, although when she is first introduced as an adult she’s in a bad marriage that somewhat mirrors her abusive relationship with her father. Stanley (Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff), meanwhile, is the sole member of the group who fails to make it to the reunion, with good reason, as we later find out. Sociopathic murderer Henry (Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton) does make it back to terrorize the Losers.

It’s not long after the Losers are reunited in Derry before things start to go sideways, and each member has to confront the most painful parts of their respective pasts. Just like in the previous film, there are plenty of deep emotions that keep the viewer invested in each character’s individual journey. Bill has an especially hard time, as he is still grappling with his grief for his little brother Georgie, which is compounded by his own guilt for neglecting him the day Pennywise pulled him into the sewer. He may not have saved Georgie, but he does have the opportunity to help Dean (Luke Roessler), a little boy who now lives in Bill’s childhood home. But, as we learned the first time around, no one is safe in Derry, and Pennywise’s preference for innocent young victims is why is the evil clown strikes terror in the hearts of so many. These scenes with Bill are made all the more affecting by McAvoy’s masterful cry face. 

It should come as no surprise that Chastain, a double Oscar nominee, gives another great performance, and her romantic storyline with an unexpected person is a tender one that at times evokes the romance in another King classic, “Carrie.” Hader, meanwhile, who won an Emmy for “Barry,” continues to impress as an a comedic heavyweight who can also get deep and serious when necessary.

“Chapter Two” relies on jump scares and gore more so than the last film, and while there are plenty of great moments and set pieces here, the story isn’t as cohesive as it could be. The film begins with a horrific hate crime, for example, and we never see the perpetrators brought to justice. Much as been made of the 169 minute runtime, and while the film doesn’t exactly drag, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt director Andy Muschietti to have trimmed more here and there. 

 “It: Chapter Two” opens Sept. 6 nationwide.