Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), the Losers Club - Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) - have grown up and moved on with their lives. However, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained behind in Derry and when a horrific murder points to the return of Pennywise, the Losers Club must return to face him - and their own demons.
Throughout King's work, and adaptations of his work, he's been able to accurately personify fear. Throughout 'It: Chapter Two', the very real fears that each character has is made real by both Pennywise's machinations and their own reaction to it. Of course, one experience isn't the same to the other. For one character, it's a horrifically diseased man coming right at them and throwing up all over them. For another, it's their father. Yet, in both cases, the fear is the same and that's what 'It: Chapter Two' is really about - fear is the same, no matter if you're young or old.
The first thing to address with 'It: Chapter Two' is in how well it has cast the older members of the Losers Club. James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Andy Bean and Jay Ryan are wonderfully pitched together and it's clear that director Andy Muschietti not only got the cast he wanted, but that they themselves wanted to be there. Each and every one of them are firing off, with humour, with heart - but the real standout is actually Bill Hader, whose character arc is by far the most well-realised of the group and demonstrates how much of a dramatic talent he can be. Likewise, Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise - even though a significant portion of his time on screen is done via CGI effects - gives a haunting performance, and builds on that other-worldiness of the first one.
For all these positives, it's a shame that 'It: Chapter Two' fails to live up to the promise of the first one. At ten minutes shy of three hours, the movie expands constantly (not unlike a certain red balloon) to the point where it just bursts, and all you're left with is entertaining but ultimately unnecessary filler. Each of the characters are given equal footing, and while the script by Gary Dauberman realises them all very well, it spends so long terrifying them one by one that the pace just grinds it to a halt. It's not to say that it's not entertaining, but you get the sense that it could have massively benefited from a more judicious take on the source material instead of arduous attention to it.
Andy Muschietti makes use of every tool in the drawer when it comes to scaring the audience, but it's done in such a way that it never allows itself to build back up again. The frights come one after the other, that by the time you're into hour two of the movie, you're worn ragged with little time to breath before it's on to the next thing. Likewise, the finale - which involves "a battle of wills" with Pennywise - is sharply realised from the page, but again, it overextends itself to the point where it becomes bloated and wearisome.
It's still a lot of fun, and especially in the fact that horror movies are so rarely given the kind of splashy, blockbuster treatment that you see here. No doubt that 'It: Chapter Two' will not be for everyone, as it exchanges subtlety and finesse for broad horror chills and slick visuals. Yet, for all of the issues with the length and the pacing, it's an entertaining experience and there's no doubt that it's going to be a huge hit with audiences.