In many ways, It: Chapter Two is similar to its central antagonist: a strange, unnerving beast that doesn’t quite have a solid grip on its own identity. The entire point of Stephen King’s original novel was to juxtapose its protagonists’ “present day” struggles with the challenges they faced in childhood. By splitting the parallel narratives into separate storylines, however, director Andres Muschietti makes the adult portion of the plot seem a bit… unnecessary. In the source material, a group of old friends raced to reassemble the fragments of their shattered memories in order to conquer the demons of their forgotten past; in this latest cinematic adaptation of the tale, on the other hand, a ragtag team of teenaged misfits murders the ever-loving shit out of a terrifying monster… and then, about three decades later, they get together and do it again, like it’s some kind of goddamn high school reunion. This structural change is far from superficial, completely altering the meaning and impact of the work, thus diminishing both its underlying themes and overall stakes.
Despite this rather significant flaw, the movie still manages to succeed more often than its fails, thanks in no small part to the valiant efforts of its talented ensemble cast. The resemblance between the grown-up members of the Losers Club and their younger counterparts is almost frighteningly uncanny, with Bill Hader and James Ransone, in particular, perfectly capturing the comedic energy that Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer brought to Richie Tozier and Eddie Kaspbrak. The other actors are equally adept in their roles: James McAvoy’s twitchy vulnerability, Isaiah Mustafa’s manic desperation, Jessica Chastain’s quiet determination, and Jay Ryan’s smoldering sensitivity all serve to elevate the otherwise thin and disjointed script; the natural chemistry that develops between the characters is where the film truly shines.
Ultimately, though, It: Chapter Two is too tonally inconsistent to recommend without reservation. While I admire and respect Muschietti and Bill Skarsgard for their decision to embrace the inherent absurdity of the premise (an ancient, extraterrestrial shape-shifter that devours children favors the form of… a dancing circus clown), opening the story with a literal hate crime before abruptly shifting to a more humorous atmosphere (Stephen King, for example, makes a “hilarious” cameo appearance as a redneck store owner) is a… puzzling creative choice, to say the least. At the end of the day, this sequel just feels like a somewhat shallow, needless retread of its elegantly self-contained predecessor—including the blemishes that I was previously willing to overlook.