When the big budget adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror tome It came out a few years ago, some were taken aback by the box office success, which lead to the film becoming the highest grossing horror of all time. If you consider It to be horror at all. Judging entirely by the movie itself, one could make the argument for the story, about a group of kids facing their fears and overcoming a cosmic entity in the form of a child-eating clown, being a supernatural/Spielbergian adventure tale. This was my tonal understanding of It, and with my limited to the film knowledge, I assume the novel shares some similarities to this. Some of course, but isn’t there more?
It Chapter Two picks up about 27 years after the last movie, with a startling sequence of punks accosting an otherwise happy gay couple outside a carnival in Derry, Maine. The violence and fear that arises as a result brings Pennywise the clown from his slumber, who subsequently (and this one time on an adult) feeds himself. This incident brings the kids who faced him down in the previous entry, “The Losers Club” they called themselves, now grownups, back to Derry to finish what they started and confront what they moved away from.
Chapter Two deals in these moments of true blue universal real-world horror with confidence that we’ll all squirm when hearing bones crunch, blood spurt, and rage aflame. What it doesn’t deal in, however, is nearly enough of that, relying mostly off of chemistry and charisma that comes and goes between moments that have little to no payoff or consequence. Subplots come, subplots go, people die, no one knows. Opportunities to explore and expand as adults be damned, It says.
That was harsh, I admit. In spite of buckets of bathroom stall blood and growling clown teeth, nothing was all that scary, but some events represented levels of individual maturity and closure. Unfortunately, these important bits are at the service and might of monster effects and jump scares, where bigger doesn’t really equal better.
Now, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, and crew are cast just fine as their child counterparts, but somehow and for some reason, most of their story has been deflated. While we do get some nuanced scenes of PTSD and visceral confrontation of fear, anxiety, and what creeps us out in the dead of night, it’s all undercut by, ironically, that damn clown. It’s funny how Pennywise picks the shape of a clown to lure little ones and freak everyone in the world out (who isn’t afraid?) and yet while knowing personal details of a victim, is unable to get beyond this visage. He did evolve into spider legs, though. That’s something, right?
The performances of and in It Chapter Two are absolutely on-point, with Hader and James Ransone being the emotional standouts and comedic high points, but clocking in at just under 3 hours, there just isn’t enough intimacy. There isn’t enough of the personal. There isn’t enough… The Marvel Cinematic Universe has wrought much damage to other properties, and with cramming many elements into what should’ve just been a story about returning home and going inward into self, things quickly and often become Avengers level grand and spunky, forcing those more interesting materials to the curb. Still, Chapter Two works as entertainment. It actually does.
Some quirks here, some added observations there, some action around the corner, and you have what is a somewhat enjoyable if potentially disappointing popcorn-muncher. It’s an odd turn after such a crazy good first chapter, but for a story that people recognize for being about a clown that isn’t really about a clown, it sure is a movie about a clown.
We’ve got enough clowns in real-world America (one is President, even). At least we get one media portrayal that’s somewhat accurate.
RATING: 3 / 5 (just barely)