We all need to remember.
When last we left Derry, Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) had fallen to his presumed death after a brawl with the Losers Club in his sewer lair. What we didn’t see as he slipped out of view were the Deadlights extinguishing—those bright beacons of insanity that caused countless children to “float” as this centuries old evil fed upon their fear. In the moment, however, these seven brave kids couldn’t think that far. To them this victory meant survival and the final time they’d be together with Beverly (Sophia Lillis) moving away. She wouldn’t be the only one to do so in the coming years as everyone headed off to greener pastures but Mike (Chosen Jacobs). He would stay to remember what happened and remember their oath.
Just like the 1990 miniseries, Andy Muschietti‘s It Chapter Two reintroduces us to the heroes of Stephen King‘s novel with a phone call. That’s actually not true as both really start with a death to spark said call. The person ringing for reinforcements is a now twenty-seven years older Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa). If you recall from Chapter One, though, he wasn’t the one with a shard of broken glass in his hand to make them swear allegiance with blood. That was the always-serious Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell and James McAvoy). His forgetting why Mike would get in touch (and initially who Mike was at all) therefore proves troubling until you realize ignorance is what maintains “It’s” (the force using Pennywise as its corporeal form) power.
“It” cannot be defeated if nobody knows what “It” is or where “It” lives. So the fact Bill, Beverly Marsh (now Jessica Chastain), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard and Bill Hader), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer and James Ransone), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Jay Ryan), and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff and Andy Bean) all left Maine was a boon for this malicious entity working in the shadows. If not for Mike refusing to let go, “It” would have recovered and started its cycle once more. And for a few murders “It” did exactly that. But once Mike knew coincidence could be ruled out, getting the band back together threw a wrench in “It’s” plans. Undeterred, however, this reunion also meant an opportunity for “It’s” revenge.
Screenwriter Gary Dauberman returns with Muschietti to distill the rest of King’s novel and update things with a few alterations to keep fans on their toes, streamline the plot, and excise problem areas. The result may seem a bit more disjointed than their first foray, but that’s to be expected considering the seven each have an equal role to play this time. Where Chapter One could keep Ben and Mike on the fringes a bit by letting them experience supernatural horror (via Pennywise’s manifestations of their worst nightmares) removed from the real life horror (at the hands of Nicholas Hamilton‘s bully Henry Bowers, now portrayed by Teach Grant) that brought them to the Losers, Chapter Two is conversely stuck piggybacking all horror types upon each character in succession.
So when Mike tells them to separate and find their respective “tokens” (a necessary part of an ancient battle of wills called the Ritual of Chüd), they’re forced to remember something that distance and time had repressed while also coming face-to-face with Pennywise again. The repression is always authentic (the bile of humanity spewing upon them as kids whether it’s sexual abuse, homophobia, or psychological disorders) and the attack always in the form of something tangible that only they see (a leper, a Paul Bunyan statue, etc.). We move from one to the other as their trauma is exposed a lot more overtly than the first film. We see the dread from the past and its return in the present as everyone wishes they never came back.
This is what makes the subject matter so potent. Rather than simply get a bunch of people together to defeat evil, these seven are very literally attempting to conquer their personal fears. It’s about self-empowerment rising to defeat the self-doubt and self-loathing spawned from vicious external sources that were often supposed to be their protectors. Can Beverly break the cycle of abusive men that began with her father? Can Eddie escape the hypochondria instilled by his mother? Can Bill stop blaming himself for the death of his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott)? Will they recognize that despite everything they endured, they were never alone because they had each other? These questions with emotional foundations are what allow It to transcend its genre conventions into resonant catharsis.
It unfortunately doesn’t always work. Muschietti and company created some truly scary monsters, but their number does become daunting enough to check out at times. That doesn’t make them any less necessary to the evolving relationships and trajectories, though. It’s merely something we must live with in order to enjoy the ride. What did disappoint me, however, was the choice to remove that underlying sense of knowing that permeated the entirety of Chapter One. There was a conscious choice there to show the townspeople as silent witnesses to what was happening with Eddie’s mother being exposed as giving him placeboes to keep him out of “It’s” clutches as though “It” was an open secret. That’s all gone in lieu of your regular, everyday evil as the norm.
Thankfully the film exceling on that surface level via stellar performances overcomes most shortcomings. Give casting director Rich Delia a raise because he knocks the child and adult actor comparisons out of the park. Besides ramping up young Eddie’s aggression in flashbacks well beyond where it was in the previous film, motivations and ticks are extremely consistent with one scene pitting McAvoy and Martell against one another to great effect. McAvoy, Chastain, and Ryan are the MVPs (the back and forth cuts from past to present between Bev and Ben are flawless) with Mustafa proving a nice surprise in his first big Hollywood role. I think Hader is excellent too, but the Oscar talk is overblown in that “comedian delivers heartfelt crying in a drama” type of way.
As for the climax: it’s a huge improvement over the miniseries with some palpable tension and heightened stakes. The path there is rushed at times (Henry Bowers is a bit of an afterthought who could be removed without losing much), but everything in the sewer is pretty unforgettable whether the Ritual of Chüd, Deadlights, Pennywise the spider/scorpion, or Bill, Bev, and Ben’s life or death moments of truth. It’s crazy too that Skarsgård’s Pennywise can be so terrifying and yet still take a backseat during the climax to the internal wars being waged in the Losers’ hearts and minds. He’s there taunting and attacking, but only ever as strong as they make him. Dauberman and Muschietti embracing this fact renders the end a wonderfully affecting moment of release.
 © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer Caption: (L-r) BILL HADER as Richie Tozier, JESSICA CHASTAIN as Beverly Marsh, JAMES MCAVOY as Bill Denbrough, JAMES RANSONE as Eddie Kaspbrak, ISAIAH MUSTAFA as Mike Hanlon, and JAY RYAN as Ben Hascomb in New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “IT CHAPTER TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer Caption: BILL SKARSGÅRD as Pennywise in New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “IT CHAPTER TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer Caption: (L-r) JAMES RANSONE as Eddie Kaspbrak, JESSICA CHASTAIN as Beverly Marsh, JAMES McAVOY as Bill Denbrough, BILL HADER as Richie Tozier, JAY RYAN as Ben Hascomb and ISAIAH MUSTAFA as Mike Hanlon in New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “IT CHAPTER TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.