Beep beep! Roll up for a return trip to Pennywise’s twisted funhouse. Mosey on in, he only bites a bit.
27 years on from his drubbing at the hands of The Losers’ Club, Bill Skarsgård’s IT reawakens from his hibernation to graze upon the children of the town of Derry once more. As the years have moved on since the events of the first film, so has each member of the Losers’ Club, all growing, forgetting their pasts, and leaving Derry behind. All except for Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), that is, who never left his hometown. And it’s on him that the burden falls to reunite his companions and to put an end to the cracked up clown once and for all.
It’s the set up to the reunion of the Losers’ Club, and the subsequent trip down memory lane that each member of the group takes, that occupies much of the opening half. Here we meet the now grown-up versions of the characters that were so compelling and loveable in Chapter One. Though the original younger cast returns, it’s with the adult editions of Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), Mike and – briefly – Stanley (Andy Bean) that we spend the lion’s share of the time.
The casting is remarkably convincing, each new iteration of the gang instantly recognisable as their younger counterpart, all grown, but each one retaining the scars of their tortured youth. Chastain, McAvoy and Hader shine, but their star power is no replacement for the charm of the 1988 original recipe Losers’ Club (the modern-day setting doesn’t help either). Because exploring adult hardships simply isn’t as fun as reliving the trials of making friends and coming of age. There just isn’t as much development to be done for the adult versions of the characters, their growth somewhat stunted, leaving them retreading much of the ground covered last time around. Which isn’t necessarily the end of the world (you can never have too much of a good thing), but it just loses some of its freshness in the process, following many of the same motions as its predecessor.
Even more so than he was in Chapter One, Bill Skarsgård- the eponymous IT – is the ace up this sequel’s sleeve. Deliciously evil, relentlessly vicious and brilliantly depraved, each of his appearances give the film a major injection of off-kilter fun, in particular, when in the best of his forms as Pennywise the clown. Both visually – with his cracking white makeup, never-ending smile and off-centre eyes – as well as physically – all janky movements, drooling and penetrating stares – he’s a hypnotic presence. It’s as Pennywise that Skarsgård is given the most freedom to scare the bejesus out of audiences all of his own accord (with an assist from Benjamin Wallfisch’s hair-raising score). ln these moments Chapter Two most successfully recalls the terror-induced joy of the prior film. Less so when CGI is leant on too heavily though, with an insistence on transforming IT into a mixed bag of computer-generated creations detracting from the scares.
Still, as deranged as Pennywise is, he’s not the most haunting of IT’s elements. It’s a brutal hate crime in the opening ten minutes, a surprise suicide and witnessing Beverly fall into a cycle of abuse that cut the deepest. Jarring though these moments might be when viewed in conjunction with the oddball thrills that are often served up otherwise, they prove that Chapter Two is at its strongest when digging a little deeper thematically, something that the previous film did so effectively: nailing the IT-specialty blend of emotional drama and crazy. It’s still weird, and frequently wonderful, but this homecoming excursion to Derry can’t quite live up to the perfectly balanced classic that was Chapter One. It still floats, it just doesn’t soar as high.
Rating (out of 5):