Despite its herculean ambition, “It Chapter 2” retains none of the contagious charm of the original. And make no mistake about it; this movie is ambitious. “Chapter 2” fires on every cylinder at its disposal, with twice the budget of “It”and an A-list adult cast as the aged-up Losers’ Club. Still, the original film’s quirky, light-hearted appeal is replaced by a tedious slog that manages to retroactively worsen the first movie.
“Chapter 2” follows the seven members of the Losers’ Club 27 years after their traumatic experience with the hilarious demon clown Pennywise. When Mike (Isaiah Mustafa, “Horrible Bosses”) learns that murders are happening in Derry that mirror the pattern of those from his childhood, he gets the gang back together to end the clown for good.
Unfortunately, the performances of the adult Losers’ Club are hit or miss. Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”) and Bill Hader (“Inside Out”) excel as Beverly and Richie, bringing to life a layer of character development that felt genuinely special in relation to their younger counterparts, Sophia Lillis (“Sharp Objects”) and Finn Wolfhard (“Dog Days”). One notably disappointing cast member was James McAvoy (“Split”) as Bill, the leader of the Losers. Capable of an actor as he is, everything McAvoy does in “Chapter 2” feels like part of a different movie. It’s not just that he’s overacting — it feels like he’s overthinking, too. He exclaims painfully when other characters are speaking quietly, he yells in full sentences at his most intense. And neither the unintentional comedy of his performance nor the nuance of Chastain’s can distract from the general clunkiness of the script.
In “Chapter 2,” there really is no such thing as subtlety. Every jump scare is more fantastical than the last, and after the 10th effects-driven set piece, the horror of it all becomes a drag too. The film trades the impact of its scares for a hollow goofiness. Where the first installment peppered in comedy to make the horror more digestible, “Chapter 2” finds its jokes in the absurdity of that horror. Muschietti’s use of CGI is partially to blame. The visual effects team was in the position of a kid in a candy store, encouraged to stretch their monsters to creative breaking points. And as much I can appreciate the film’s foray into realm of Tim Burton, there’s a point where zany just isn’t scary. Sure, there were shudders, jolts and occasional yelps in the audience, but there was mocking laughter equally present during the film’s gravest moments.
Part of the charm of “It” was how breathless and contained it felt. The story happens almost entirely in the summer of 1989, nailing the identical vein of nostalgia on which the series “Strangers Things” thrives. Yet, for all the care the first chapter takes in immersing its audience in a single summer, “Chapter 2” is a temporal collage. Flashbacks are half-baked character notes, often occurring within the timeline of the first film. Moreover, where the perspective of “It” felt limited to only the characters we care about, “Chapter 2” detours wherever it pleases. Both of these choices make for a far more sprawling, far more exhausting journey.
The contrast between the two halves of the story is a fascinating case in how the financial backing of a franchise affects its identity. “It” emits a vulnerability that goes beyond the adorable chemistry of its child actors. The first chapter feels genuine, investing its emotional core above everything else. It’s one of the reasons the movie reached so many audiences. The creative minds behind “Chapter 2” were aware of its likely success, discarding the finale they had intended — the one they seemed to promise us as an audience — for a numbingly zealous procedure, a mere performance of emotion.