Review: ‘It Chapter Two’ offers an epic conclusion to the Pennywise saga

Longer, darker and more emotionally rich than the first, the final chapter in the It saga offers a bold, epic conclusion for Pennywise and The Losers’ Club.

Once upon a time (in It: Chapter One (2017)), a group of kids known as “The Losers’ Club” came together over a summer to fight off a demon who appeared to them as a dancing clown named Pennywise who lived in the sewer system under the sleepy town of Derry, Maine. After a series of terrifying events and a final confrontation with Pennywise, the young friends made a pact, swearing an oath to answer the call and come back to Derry if the ancient evil ever returned.

It: Chapter Two finds The Loser’s Club all grown up 27 years later, spread out across the country living distinctly different lives of their own: Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis / Jessica Chastain) has married an abusive husband; Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard / Bill Hader) is now a comedian, Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer / James Ransome) a hen-pecked husband and insurance risk analyst. But when Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) resurfaces and once again terrorizes Derry, the gang must return home, where they will each have to face their own individual childhood traumas before they can hope to defeat Pennywise for good.

Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs / Isaiah Mustafa) is the only one of them who never left Derry, and it’s he who calls the group together and also he who remembers the most about their fateful summer 27 years ago. While the rest of the Losers’ Club begin to piece together their long repressed memories, Mike offers a plan to defeat Pennywise forever: the Losers will have to perform a risky group ritual, but not before claiming “tokens” from their past.

From here the story is intercut with flashbacks as the adults come up against their darkest secrets and most painful moments from their childhoods. “Stuttering” Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell / James McAvoy), for example, must face the guilt and relive the trauma of losing his little brother Georgie to Pennywise that fateful rainy day when he pretended to be sick so he wouldn’t have to play.

Both chapters of this modern iteration of “It” are of course based on Stephen King’s epic, terrifying, 1,100-page novel, which was itself divided into two main sections. By nature of its source material, It: Chapter Two goes to some dark places story-wise, and, as The Losers’ Club is all grown up now, this is also a fittingly more mature movie overall, going a bit deeper into themes such as sexuality and sexual abuse. It’s also lengthy at a 169-minute run-time. The argument could be made that the story might have been better served by a trilogy or miniseries adaptation rather than just two parts, which might have given it (and the audience) a little more breathing room. But as it stands, the nearly three-hour run-time of It: Chapter Two allows for a scale and a sense of epicness not often seen in horror films. It’s full of big, wild, crazy set pieces and special effects, boldly and entertainingly bringing to life some of the more fantastically-imagined horrors from the novel, with an aesthetic that hearkens back to director Andy Muschietti’s visionary earlier work on Mama (2013). Viewers mileage will likely vary in terms of how much they appreciate the aesthetic and tone here, and in terms of how scary they ultimately find Pennywise and his various antics, but either way it’s nice to see that the scale and the effort is there.

In keeping with the novel, It: Chapter Two also has a fair amount of emotional depth, with creeps, shocks and scares being balanced out by touching moments and a good dose of humor. Bill Hader as Richie is a stand-out in terms of comedic relief as well as some of the  poignancy. And while we’re on the subject of the cast, I can’t imagine a more perfectly cast film in terms of matching adults to the kids from the first chapter. They all do a good job with the material, though the grand scale of the films ambitions leaves some of the characterizations a bit one-dimensional. Ben Hanscomb for example (Jeremy Ray Taylor / Jay Ryan), who has shed the excess weight he carried in his youth, spends most of the film just sort of opining for his unrequited love, Beverly, without much further development than that. Still, there’s a grander, more universal theme at play, about overcoming childhood trauma and not letting any clowns keep you down, and it works well enough that by the time it’s all said and done viewers may find themselves shedding a tear or two.

It: Chapter One broke box office records, and It: Chapter Two is likely to as well (early numbers suggest so, at least). To that I say, good for IT, and good for all involved. Any adaptation of King’s novel was always going to be an ambitious undertaking, and this ending feels earnest in its attempts to bring Stephen King’s vision to life and to provide an entertaining theatrical experience. It: Chapter Two is a horror film that feels like it gives the audience its money’s worth, offering the big, theatrically epic conclusion that Pennywise and The Loser’s Club deserve.

It: Chapter Two is in theaters nationwide Sept. 5th.

 

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