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‘IT Chapter Two’ brings the Losers saga to a satisfying finish: Review

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To hear the movies tell it, your adolescent years are the ones that define the rest of your life. 

Certainly that’s the case in IT Chapter Two, which reunites the now-grown Losers for a rematch against Pennywise — and just in case you’re shaky on the metaphor, the film comes out and explains it.

“People want to believe they are what they choose to remember,” a voiceover intones in the opening moments of the movie. “But sometimes, we are what we wish we could forget.” 

In Chapter Two, that includes most of the events of the first It, as forgetting is built into the curse of Pennywise. 27 years have passed, and almost all the Losers have left Derry behind for bigger and better things: Bill (James McAvoy) is a bestselling author; Bev (Jessica Chastain) is a successful designer; Richie (Bill Hader) is a famous comedian; Ben (Jay Ryan) is a hotshot architect; and so on.

The only Loser still in Derry, and thus the only Loser with any clear memory left of the summer of 1989, is Mike (Isaiah Mustafa). It is he who realizes Pennywise (Bill Skårsgard) has resurfaced, and calls the Losers back home to make good on their childhood promise to end this ancient evil. So the Losers return, compelled by a vague but overwhelming sense of urgency, without knowing quite why. 

Bill Hader is the clear standout, finding notes of desperation and tenderness beneath Richie’s relentless wisecracking.

Where 2017’s It found terror in the everyday tragedies of childhood — grief, illness, bullies, parental neglect or abuse — the sequel gets its emotional pull from the impossibility of outrunning the past. The adult Losers are trapped in familiar cycles, like Bev’s marriage to an abusive man or Eddie’s (James Ransone) to a woman just like his mother, even before Pennywise enters the picture. 

Once the gang is back in Derry, the connection between the past and present only intensifies. The film cuts between 1989 and 2016 to draw a straight line between who these characters were and what happened to them that summer, and who they’ve become in the years since then. 

As with the first film, some characters fare better than others. Hader is the clear standout among the cast, finding notes of desperation and tenderness beneath Richie’s relentless wisecracking, and he’s well complemented by a nuanced Finn Wolfhard as the younger Richie. But it helps too that Gary Dauberman’s script gives him the richest material to work with.

On the other side of the spectrum, Mike, the sole non-white member of the Losers Club, remains more plot device than character, despite the best efforts of Mustafa and his teenage counterpart, Chosen Jacobs. It is additionally unfortunate that his contribution to the story involves some creaky stereotyping of Native Americans as mystical people of the past. Even as the It movies try to confront real-life evils like racism, misogyny, and homophobia (yes, Adrian Mellon makes an appearance), they reveal some disappointing shortcomings. 

The grown-up Losers: Richie (Bill Hader), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Eddie (James Ransone), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), and Ben (Jay Ryan).

The grown-up Losers: Richie (Bill Hader), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Eddie (James Ransone), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), and Ben (Jay Ryan).

Fortunately, the unevenness of the storytelling is less noticeable when the Losers are together. As kids, they enjoy a cozy rapport that cements this clique as the one reliable source of security and companionship for these troubled souls. As adults, they share that peculiar mix of awkwardness, giddiness, and sentimentality that comes from falling back into old rhythms with strangers you used to know intimately. It’s the feeling Chapter Two nails best, and you might even mistake this for a regular old reunion drama if it weren’t for that freaky clown who keeps popping up.

Right, about that: It’s surely telling that I’ve gotten this far into the review with barely a mention of its scare factor. It’s not because Chapter Two is short on horror. Pennywise is in fact very busy in this movie, crafting horrific sequences perfectly suited to each Losers’ greatest weaknesses and then pulling out all the stops for the inevitable third-act showdown. Some of them are even pretty cool, like the parade of grotesqueries that hatch from a bowl of cookies, and the majority of them work perfectly well in the moment.

IT Chapter Two feels curiously lightweight, almost more like a really long epilogue rather than a story in its own right. 

Yet the horror of Chapter Two leaves far less of an impression, once all is said and done. Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen this bag of tricks before, or because it’s clearer this time how “real” they are, or because a bunch of 40somethings don’t seem vulnerable in the same way that a group of children do. 

Or maybe it’s the lack of context. Chapter Two runs 149 minutes long, and it crams in so much exposition, backstory, and scare sequences that the time zooms by easily. What it still can’t find room for, however, is any authentic sense of who these characters are now, or what their post-Derry lives are like, or what Derry itself has become. 

It lived and breathed in the complete, if insular, wold of Derry. We were attuned to the moods and textures of the place, and the personalities and values and biases of the people within it. When Pennywise was unleashed upon the town, we understood exactly what that meant for our lead characters.

Chapter Two offers a handful of biographical details about each of the Losers, like their locations, their professions, and their relationship statuses, but seems unable to imagine them as anything beyond extensions of the kids we met in the first film. That may be part of the point — that the adult Losers are trapped in a state of arrested development until they face down their demons for once and for all — but it makes Chapter Two feel curiously lightweight, almost more like a really long epilogue rather than a story in its own right. 

Still, there are worse ways for a beloved story to end than by assembling an all-star cast to give each main character some closure. (And hey, that’s tricky stuff — just ask Bill, whose biggest concern as an adult is his inability to write a good ending.) If Chapter Two doesn’t quite offer the thrill or emotional heft of its predecessor, it does serve up plenty to gasp at, laugh with, and even cry about — along with the satisfaction of closing the book on a long and winding saga. 

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