How can something so good look so lousy?
It’s a thought that recurred while I watched “It Chapter Two,” the overlong, headache-inducing conclusion to an adaptation of Stephen King’s overlong, headache-inducing novel.
Maybe the shock value of blink-of-an-eye brutality committed by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has worn off. Maybe I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be horrified or grossed out by the naked elderly woman terrorizing Beverly (Jessica Chastain). All I know is, the special effects were not impressive.
Something like that would sink a lesser blockbuster, but “It Chapter Two” has a few more rocks to throw. It’s something I didn’t expect, an often excellent ensemble movie.
Nearly 30 years after they last matched wits against Pennywise, most of the Losers Club reunite to save the children of Derry, Maine. Doing so gives each a chance to exorcise some personal demons and renew bonds.
“It Chapter Two,” written by Gary Dauberman (“It,” “Annabelle Comes Home”) takes liberties with its storytelling. A couple characters don’t make nearly as much impact as expected, while a couple more reveal new aspects of themselves.
Surprisingly, director Andy Muschietti (“It”) and Dauberman seemed less assured in depicting the more familiar moments. Survivor’s guilt is inescapable for Young Bill (Jaeden Martell). For adult Bill (James McAvoy), it’s the invitation for awkward attempts at heroics.
Beverly’s struggle against victimization, so fascinating in the first film, isn’t given the care it deserves this time around. A little too much time is devoted to the rekindled romance of Beverly and Ben (Jay Ryan). They’re a sweet couple, but not as interesting as their adolescent counterparts (Sophia Lillis and Jeremy Ray Taylor).
Every good coming of age story needs a dynamic duo. Whether as youngsters (Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer) or adults (Bill Hader and James Ransone), Richie and Eddie cheerfully trade insults like the proverbial old married couple.
I want to call special attention to Hader, who is excellent as Richie. Hader shines opposite Ransone and gives a fully realized and eventually moving performance. A scene late in the movie just about gutted me.
Two years ago, I was hopeful that an “It” sequel would make better use of Mike. I got my wish. Isaiah Mustafa has the right blend of charisma and quirkiness for Mike. Bill might seem like the ringleader, but in all honesty, Mike calls the shots. Unfortunately, this characterization isn’t as apparent in Chosen Jacobs’ performance as Young Mike.
My jury’s still out when it comes to Skarsgård. He still sounds like Scooby Doo. He still looks way too unnerving to ever convincingly lure a victim. And ultimately, he’s a little too comic to be nightmarish. His last weapon is the sudden violence, which I already mentioned isn’t as striking this time around.
The Losers Club has seven members — adult Stanley, played by Andy Bean, makes crucial bookend appearances — which requires the depiction of seven journeys being resolved. That’s a lot of plot and unfortunately, so much of it is secondhand.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, “It Chapter Two” is unmistakably padded and doesn’t seem interested in solving that problem. It might be the first half-sequel I’ve ever seen.
Other standouts in the cast include Wyatt Oleff as Young Stanley; Luke Roessler as Dean, who Bill seeks to protect; and yes, Joan Gregson as Mrs. Kersh.
At one point, Bill reminds Eddie that Pennywise’s power comes from fear. He warns him not to give it to him.
“It Chapter Two” has no such reservations. It gives everything to the audience. I might have often been disappointed with the movie, but I have no problem calling it a success. Good and bad, it really is quite an experience.
I give “It Chapter Two” my Recommended rating.