The Losers’ Club returns to Derry

TMN film critic Gordon McPherson gives “It: Chapter Two” 2 and a half out of 5 red balloons.

The overlong and fascinating “It: Chapter Two” proves a passable sequel to the 2017 smash hit.

Pennywise the Dancing Clown has resurfaced in the rural town of Derry, Maine, 27 years after the events of “It: Chapter One,” terrorizing children and adults alike and feasting on their fear. The lovable group of children from the first chapter — the self-proclaimed Losers’ Club — have grown up into flawed adults, amnesiac of much of the horror they endured as children. Mike Hanlon, played by Isaiah Mustafa, contacts the remainder of the Losers’ Club to come back to Derry, based on the blood oath the group made at the end of “Chapter One,” as Pennywise has started chomping on the sleepy town’s inhabitants once again. So, Bill, Beverly, Ben, Richie and Eddie are back in the fray — portrayed by such A-list actors as James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader, among others — and are sadly less interesting than they were as children. They must kill the cuddly clown once and for all.

Boy-oh-boy, Pennywise is still pretty crazy. Bill Skarsgård perfectly portrays the disturbing, child-murdering monster with concerning gusto. His childlike, cocaine-addicted voice, bright makeup and nauseating smile still leave a lasting impression, even if the rest of the film pales in comparison to his performance. 

While the first chapter was the highest-grossing R-rated horror film of all time, Director Andrés “Andy” Muschietti had little excuse to make “It: Chapter Two” nearly three hours long. This isn’t “Avengers: Endgame,” despite what Muschietti wants to believe.

What is essentially a fairly standard story, with a creepily iconic villain, is stretched out far too long by obsessive nostalgia for the first chapter.

Sure, “It: Chapter One” was a thoroughly entertaining film, boosted by the chemistry between the central child characters and Skarsgård’s masterful performance as Pennywise. 

“Chapter Two,” however, cares more about the younger Losers’ Club than the older, neglecting to give the adult Losers’ Club the emotional pull needed to warrant the extended runtime. 

As a result, while the adult Losers’ Club works fine as an ensemble, they can’t replicate the chemistry the child actors had in “It: Chapter One.”

The new cast, Bill Hader especially, are entertaining enough, but the plot and writing don’t give them opportunities to truly shine. Oddly enough, the returning child actors outshine them.

Rather than focusing on the present day, “Chapter Two” lives in the past, even using the same child actors from the original in drawn-out flashbacks that, unfortunately, don’t quite make sense to the plot.

What results is a film that, at times, feels like a blatant rehash of the original with less of an emotional backbone, fumbling its moral message along the way.

The original film’s message of strength in unity — albeit strength that involves embracing violent instincts — rings true again in “Chapter Two,” just add a confusing theme of sacrifice that left a sour taste in my mouth. 

Fortunately, Muschietti shines in terms of horror set pieces, concocting devilishly twisted scenarios for the characters that — like the original — feel like walking through heart-pounding haunted houses. True scares are sacrificed for sudden jumps, jolts and gory imagery. These sequences are fun for a while, until they aren’t.

By the film’s sloppy, Michael Bay-esque conclusion, “Chapter Two” feels more like an action movie than a horror movie. Like in “Chapter One,” Muschietti succumbs to bombast that lacks any subtlety — this time also employing flashing lights in several sequences that nearly gave me epileptic seizures.

While I have numerous problems with “It: Chapter Two,” the overall film has enough strengths to recommend to fans of the original. For those not already enamoured with the characters, however, “Chapter Two” will feel like an irritatingly bloated exercise in self-indulgence.