Review: It: Chapter Two Is Entertaining, If a Bit Bloated

It: Chapter Two is exactly what you think it's going to be. Luckily, however, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The cast is strong, the script is engaging, and director Andy Muschietti delivers a solid story with plenty of scares. While it might not be as complex as other films in the genre, It: Chapter Two is, if nothing else, an entertaining watch.

The sequel to the 2017 hit adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel, It: Chapter Two doesn't stray much from the source material -- or from the 1990 television miniseries, for that matter. Following the events of the first film, the members of the self-proclaimed "Losers Club" have grown up and gone their separate ways. But when Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) realizes the otherworldly shape-shifter mostly known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has returned to Derry, Maine, he calls the others and forces them to return to their hometown. But Pennywise remembers his defeat by the group 27 years earlier, and is prepared to face them again.

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The casting is spot-on in aging up the characters, with some of Hollywood's biggest stars perfectly filling the roles established by a younger ensemble in It. Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan and James Ransone deliver strong performances as older versions of Bev, Ben and Eddie respectively. Mustafa is just as good as Mike, and he plays off well against James McAvoy.

McAvoy imbues Bill with self-doubt, which works well against his expanded personal journey to self-forgiveness. The highlight, though, is Bill Hader, who gets the quietest (but most interesting) character to play with. He absolutely kills it, making the jittery but conflicted Richie into something of a breakout performance.

On top of that, It: Chapter Two devotes an unexpected amount of time to flashbacks to the original cast. It's revealed that each of the children actually faced Pennywise once more on their own before the final battle, retconning new sequences with the cast of the previous film. Recovering those memories (and tokens of them) plays a crucial part in Mike's plan to try and defeat Pennywise, for good this time. Their winning performances from the first film carry over here, especially when they're forced to contend with the aspects of their childhood they wish they could forget.

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Skarsgård still excels as Pennywise, although he gets fewer scenes of direct menace. Still, Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman (Annabelle Comes Home) craft new scares to keep those scenes from feeling repetitive. That gives some variety to the frights, although jump scares are still the film's most-utilized tool, meaning there are fewer moments for Pennywise to stand out.

While the plot doesn't deviate much from the earlier versions of the story, there are some welcome tweaks to certain characters. Mike actually receives more to do than he ever has before, and the personal arcs for Bill and Richie are expanded Despite that, the film still has material it would have been better off cutting. Notably, former bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) plays no real significance, and feels like little more than a diversion.

That may be the film's biggest flaw. It: Chapter Two nearly runs for three hours, and while it's not bogged down by that length, it does become somewhat stalled. The meandering section focusing on the tokens essentially plays out as a mini-anthology; it's well-produced, of course, but contributes to the film becoming a bit of a slog at times.

It: Chapter Two stars Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Jess Weixler, Will Beinbrink, Xavier Dolan, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff and Nicholas Hamilton. The film opens Sept. 6 nationwide.

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