Twenty-seven years after a group of children ventured into the sewers of Derry, Maine, to defeat a mysterious shapeshifting killer, a new spate of murders reveals that what they thought was dead has returned: and a promise to come home and finish the job re-unites Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James MacAvoy), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Eddie (James Ransone) one final time.
Andy Muschietti’s first It film was a huge commercial success, but made quite a few changes from the novel that did not entirely satisfy. Its take on the demonic clown Pennywise, a character still dominated by Tim Curry’s theatrical performance in the 1990 miniseries, was rather too horrific and bleak, while a shift in setting from the 1950s to the 1980s felt a poor fit for Stephen King’s original novel. A reduction in Mike’s role in the narrative also hurt the film somewhat, weakening the story’s sole person of colour for no easily justifiable reason.
It: Chapter Two is set in the present day, and adapts the second half of King’s lengthy novel. “It” has returned, and as the last remaining member of the Losers Club still living in Derry, Mike calls and begs his childhood friends to return. This sequel did not gain the popular audience or acclaim that its predecessor did, but personally I find it a much stronger film. With the benefit of age the protagonists have much more depth to them, and a strong cast of actors do an exceptional job of fleshing them out and showing how each has changed and developed in the intervening years. Particularly strong is Jessica Chastain – one of the USA’s best contemporary actors – as Beverly: still a victim, but still fighting to escape a legacy of violence.
Bill Skarsgård brings a much more comfortable and light tone to Pennywise, warming up the character to an extent and in doing so pulling away from the relentless horrors that made him difficult to believe in last time around. Clowns are naturally creepy characters – more so in the 1980s than the 1950s – and a screaming demonic monster as a clown made a mockery of the idea it could ever tempt a child into harm’s way. This revised iteration is funnier, and more subtle where it counts: finally a temptation for which you can believe a child would fall.
Stylishly shot, well paced, and overall very satisfying, It: Chapter Two feels like a strong improvement, and a solid slice of commercially-minded populist horror. It is imperfect in places – the climax struggles a little, and an early scene of two homosexual men being assaulted feels tonally misjudged – but overall it satisfies in a manner that the original film did not quite manage. Still, as a two-part re-opening of the Stephen King adaptation for business – there have been six new Stephen King film adaptations since It with 10 in development – it acquits itself remarkably well.
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