Great casting and Pennywise is menacing… up to a point.
After defeating Pennywise in the last instalment, the Losers' Club promises to return if he'd ever return. That was 26 years ago. Now the Losers' Club have grown up and gone their separate ways, most of their memories of Pennywise faded away. Until a phone call from one of them brings them back to finish it once and for all.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
If there's a sterling example of great casting, this is it. Bill (played by James McAvoy); Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader)… there is little doubt that these adults would look like the kids if life happened to them. Chastain, Hader and James Ransone (who plays the hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak) are standouts; Hader especially. Who'd have thunk that Hader, whose comic background, would provide him with the tools to emote when the scene calls for it and enliven the mood?
The story deviates slightly from the book, which is better, in my opinion. That opening scene with the hate crime; what is it about small towns and its small-minded inhabitants that make for a teachable moment about tolerance? It kickstarts the whole theme of trying to outgrow the smallness of your origins. Most of the Losers' Club has grown up and moved away, the distance they placed between themselves and Derry, Maine fogs their memory of their encounter with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). They are somewhat successful in their right, except it feels hollow like they are missing significant pieces of their past. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) remained in Derry, acting as a watchdog, in case, Pennywise returns.
Once the Losers' Club starts remembering everything (including the fear felt in contact with Pennywise), we see why they had to leave. But we also understand that you'd also need to acknowledge the past to actually move on. Which brings us to Pennywise.
Even with all its monstrous posturing, Pennywise suddenly becomes that 'person who still remains in that town'—y'know, that person who is still pulling off that same schtick, still acting like that combover is foolproof. This person never stepped outside the comforts of his or her circle. They never left town. When you understand this, it sorta paints Pennywise as pathetic.
Once you inhabit this belief, it makes it more potent in cutting Pennywise down to size and seeing it for what it is as I quote Journey: Just a small town girl / Living in a lonely world.
What we didn't like
I've friends who didn't like it because 'it wasn't scary'. And they have a point. The film is long (two hours and 45 minutes) and with that kind of marathon length, after a while, you stop holding your breath at the frightening moments. And because this is a sequel, if you've watched the first one, you're kinda immune to the scares this time round.
(I find it comforting to think of this as a thriller with horror elements.)
The bloatedness of the film comes from the rejigging of the story. In the book, the Ritual of Chüd is a battle of wills with Pennywise in the psychic realm. Your average screenwriter would just abandon the concept for a film adaptation because it's kinda tough to visually translate something that takes place in the mind. Like, do you show it as it is? Or is it as a metaphor for something else?
But no, this screenwriter (Gary Dauberman) mutters challenge accepted and, not only does he includes the ritual, but he also added that it is derived from a Native American tribe living in Derry's outskirts and the ritual preparation takes up the bulk of the film. Ballsy.
But the payoff doesn't really take off.
Some of the Losers' side quest makes sense and adds to the development, others were not as strong (seriously, Bill, tone down the hysterics). And after Beverly's encounter, you sorta see a pattern going on with the rest of the Losers' side quest. The repetition doesn't do the film any good, especially when horror only works with the element of surprise. Also, I suspect, that Hanlon's retrieval of his own personal token for the ritual was cut out of the movie due to its running time.
Tonally, it is a little uneven. Eddie meets with his personal nightmare, the leper, and as black bile is spewing into Eddie's maw in slow-motion, “Angel of the Morning” plays. Or when Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) attacks Eddie with a knife; it's horrific but after a beat or two, it becomes a comedy of survival. I know that laughing and screaming are reactions to fear but the former tends to eradicate any form of sustained suspense.
The plotline with Henry is thin and is almost not needed; the CGI is an overkill that the effects look fake and the title, man, what's with the title? Grammatically, I know there's a missing colon but what's the deal with the title? WHERE'S THE COLON?
What to look out for
Writer, Stephen King makes an appearance as well as the director, Andy Muschietti.
IT Chapter Two is out in theatres.