Forgettable horror sequels are a dime a dozen in Hollywood; they’re almost never anywhere near as good as their predecessors and fail to reach the caliber of the movie that helped lay the foundation (or make a profit for a studio). While It: Chapter 2 is based on Stephen King’s popular novel, the physical copy of which is as heavy as a bag of apples, it still has a lot to live up to thanks to its forerunner that was a smashing hit and a near-perfect horror movie. Based on the box office numbers and reception, Warner Brothers gave returning director Andy Muschietti more than just the keys to the sequel, but the whole garage, its tools, and anything else he wanted in order to make Chapter 2 live up to every bit of the first installment. As a result, It: Chapter 2 is more than just a horror movie. It’s a blockbuster with the mentality of “go big or go home.” Going all out to the very end It: Chapter 2 swings for the fences and hits a home run. At just a hair below its predecessor, it’s not only the year’s best horror movie, but also one of the best horror sequels ever made.
In the sleepy town of Derry, the evil clown Pennywise returns 27 years later to torment the grown-up members of the Losers’ Club, who have long since drifted apart from one another.
Clocking in at almost three hours, the runtime of It: Chapter 2 can look overwhelming on paper (for a horror movie, that is). However, Muschietti and editor Jason Ballantine keep things tight and smooth, at a more-than moderate pace to make the horror sequel not feel as long. And again, we’re viewing more than just a horror movie, but a blockbuster where you can tell that money was spent on spot-on production design for the town of Derry and great visual effects that help amplify the horror elements of the story (from Pennywise to all the other things that’ll make you jump). While a near-three hour movie is unheard of these days and while it does everything just about right, one minor quibble keeps it from being on par with its predecessor. WIthout getting into spoilers, I’ll just say that an origin story critical to concluding the story feels rushed with visuals that are questionable at best. However, it’s only a minor blemish, and it takes nothing away from just how good Chapter 2 is in terms of a horror movie and a sequel. From start to finish, the story delivers the thrills and resolves almost every critical plot point with every character we’ve been invested in over this, for now, two-movie franchise. (Will we get a Pennywise origin movie?).
Taking place 27 years after the first entry, we see the members of the Losers’ Club as adults; the casting for their older selves for Chapter 2 is excellent and the chemistry among the club helps carry the movie. James McAvoy anchors the group and makes for a solid adult version of Billy. One scene that was featured in previews has McAvoy in a room full of mirrors, and it is quite chilling and every bit as good as marketing made it out to be. Jessica Chastain is good as ever as the adult version of Beverly by taking a step forward from her younger self’s scarred past. While McAvoy and Chastain are household names, it’s the lesser-known actors that make a name for themselves in Chapter 2. Jay Ryan as Ben, Isaiah Mustafa (famous for his Old Spice commercials) as Mike, and James Ransone as Eddie (essentially an adult doppelgänger of his younger self, Jack Dylan Grazer) are all welcome additions who are sure to gain traction in Hollywood following the release of Chapter 2. However, the best new casting, to no one’s surprise, is Bill Hader as Richie. Providing the comic relief whenever the movie needs it, Hader brings his light-hearted charm to Chapter 2 and provides the movie with slight breathers between its horror and epic scope.
Of course, the main attraction of the It franchise is Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Much like the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight, the majority of people questioned the choice of Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, but Bill proved them wrong the first time around with his interpretation of the nightmarish clown, which didn’t leave the minds of its viewers two years ago. As chilling and creepy as the previous entry, Skarsgard cements himself as one of the best horror villains in cinematic history with Chapter 2. Multiple scenes throughout this sequel help solidify his case, but one where Pennywise rips into his own face seals his legacy among the other iconic horror villains (at least in this critic’s opinion).
Upping the scale with runtime, near-perfect casting, visuals, and production design help make It: Chapter 2 part of arguably the most memorable one-two horror movie punch in cinematic history, along with making it the best horror movie of the year. For a story that at one point was destined to be butchered or left in limbo, director Muschietti took the reigns and delivered two chapters that will make it worth revisiting in the years to come. Buckle up and return to Derry this weekend, folks. While your stay might be long, your departure will leave you afloat with satisfaction once the story concludes.