"This means, sadly, that the inevitable It: Chapter 2 will have almost nothing but the shitty parts."
-Me, reviewing It, 725 days ago
Call it a self-fufilling prophecy if you need to, but sure enough, It: Chapter Two is pretty much nothing but the shitty parts. It is a little upsetting to find how little of actual merit is on display across the film's brain-rotting 169-minute running time, though not, I think, all that surprising. Certainly, I do not proclaim any genius for myself in having made that prediction back in September 2017. In all of It's narrative forms - the original 1986 brick of a novel by Stephen King, the 1990 TV miniseries that so richly fucked up the childhoods of an entire generation - there has always been a bright shining line dividing the material into two very different levels of quality. The stuff about the incidents involving seven kids in 1958 (in the book), 1960 (in the miniseries), or 1989 (in the 2017 film) ranges from very good to excellent, with a single swerve into, "why in God's name can't Stephen King end stories properly?" for a very notorious climax thankfully rejected for the filmed versions. The stuff about six adults in 1985, 1990, or 2016 ranges from boring to decent. And It: Chapter Two is almost entirely about the adults, with occasional flashbacks to some of the events that It didn't quite get round to dramatising.

I'd say, then, that the results are no better than they ever had a chance of being, but I wonder if I'm being too generous even there. Frankly, the results as definitely worse than I expected, and I wasn't even expecting much. For one thing, it simply did not cross my mind that Chapter Two could possibly have worse CGI than the first movie, especially since it had a bigger budget. This is no slam against It, which I think has perfectly solid effects, with a few missteps. Chapter Two has a lot of missteps with a few moments that mostly look fine. It gets off to a bad start: one of the first big horror showpieces is a dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant (one of several things about the story that feels more "1985" than "2016", in some ineffable way I can't quite pin down), where the fortune cookies erupt with all manner of eldritch horrors. And while some of these are merely insufficient - an eyeball using its ragged optic nerve to propel itself around looks kind of goofy, but not enough to ruin the moment - several are so shinily over-lit and cartoony (I am especially thinking of the deeply cheesy beetles with screaming baby faces) that it renders the moment ridiculous and stupid. The best it seems to be aiming for is to be unnecessarily gross, not scary in any way.

"Gross, not scary" is pretty much the only register the film wants to operate in. It '17 wasn't very scary, but it at least had something of the appealing spookiness of a campfire story, and it wasn't particularly gross at all. Mostly, where it was best (and I think it very much holds up in this respect) was its depiction of the ambling, lanky summer friendship of a peerlessly-cast group of 13-year-old loners. Chapter Two has a grand total of one scene that's even thinking about operating on that kind of warmly human level, despite not just bringing back the original cast for flashbacks, but doing an outstanding job of matching them to adult actors for the 2016 incarnations. This has a lot do with the source material: in It the novel, most the adult material existed solely to facilitate the flashbacks, and the modern-day action really just consisted of walking from place to place, and letting each new place trigger some memory. Chapter Two does... exactly that, now that I'm thinking of it. And it totally sucks.

Anyway, insofar as the film has a plot, might as well recap it. It's late summer, 2016, and an unfathomable evil hangs over the world, waiting to be born (I'm not going to do anything with that, hot-take writers, go ahead and have fun with it). Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), librarian of Derry, Maine, has any idea of what is befouling his small town, for his six comrades in arms of the Losers' Club have lost their memory as a direct result of leaving Derry. So Mike calls them back: novelist Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), stand-up comic Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), architect Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), risk analyst Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), fashion designer Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean), whose identity we needn't care about, since he's so terrified by the flood of memories that comes back when Mike calls him that he commits suicide rather than return to Derry. Once the other five return, they find their old personalities come rushing back, along with the memory of the time they banded together to fight an unfathomable creature of cosmic evil that could take many guises, but generally relied on the one called Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill SkarsgΓ₯rd). Mike has figured out that this It returns in 27-year cycles, and the spate of missing children that has hit Derry lately is surely a sign of Its present feeding. He's learned a lot more about It besides, and thinks he's found a way for the reunited Losers' Club to kill It once and for all.

This involves two steps: a fetch quest, and a painfully long, painfully embarrassingly goofy battle with a whole of CGI in an underlit cave.

So that's, like, the film. All of the Losers go find some very important totem from their past, specifically of the one month in the summer of '89 when they had been fighting and were mucking about Derry alone. So each of them goes, has a flashback, and regroups. This movie is 169 minutes long, I think I mentioned that.

Truth be told, It: Chapter Two isn't godawful for most of all the above-sketched plot. The actors are all good, at least, and it's nice to see the child actors return, though they're given far less to do now, and despite running more than 30 minutes past the first movie, Chapter Two doesn't seem to have time for nearly as many casual, loose moments of hanging out and enjoying the company of people you like. It is absolutely not a coincidence that its few scenes that are actively fun to watch, rather than merely tolerable (or less), are the ones that move in that direction.

Meanwhile, the ending is a straight-up disaster. There's a dumb running gag about how Bill can't end his novels, maybe the single-commonest criticism of King himself (King even cameos as a crusty old townie making that complaint) so it's something of a miraculous irony that Gary Dauberman, in adapting the screenplay for Chapter Two, has come up with an ending for this material even lousier than the not-very-good ending of the original novel (it's hard not to wonder how much the absence of Cary Fukunaga & Chase Palmer, who wrote the first draft of the first movie before Dauberman revised it, is responsible for Chapter Two's shortcomings). I would hate to give it away. Suffice it to say that it totally diminishes Its primordial terror as an unknowable Cthulhic force, while transforming the battle of wills between It and the Losers into a series of blackout gags. Then the emotional complexity of the material is wiped away with a frankly insipid handful of denouements. Again, not going to spoil it, and I don't really give a shit anyway. Just reading it into the record that I think the first two hours of Chapter Two are merely not-good; it is only the third and last hour is that is actively bad.

Not that those two hours aren't making plenty of bad decisions. The worst ones tend to involve music: Benjamin Wallfisch has returned to write the score, and somehow has done an infinitely worse job of it, relying on a lot of dumb musical punctuation marks and even "wacky" cues that make this all seem more like it was made for kids than the one where kids were the protagonists. Even worse than the score, there's a brief snatch of "Angel of the Morning" that so thoroughly undercuts one moment, rendering a scare scene into nothing but gross-out slapstick, that one has to wonder aloud if director Andy Muschietti and the other filmmakers actually believed in this material on any level, or if they were just enjoying using broad, dopey humor to mock it. That's pretty much all that Hader's entire character is about - it's pretty much all that Richie has ever been about, but Chapter Two seems to embrace it. He's involved a dog joke somewhat near the end that rivals the "Angel of the Morning" beat for being so completely contrary to the business of real horror that it genuinely raises the possibility that the filmmakers were actively trying to make their film less scary.

On top of all these woes, Chapter Two simply isn't as well-made as It. That film had wonderful cinematography by Chung Chung-hoon that evoked the bright summers of childhood and the silvery tang of '80s color film stock. This film, shot by Checco Varese, has a lot of brownish night sequences, and a tendency towards the golds of autumn that suggest the warm daytime color timing of the original Halloween without it being motivated properly by the plot. It's not unattractive, but it's certainly less pointed and distinct. Same with most of the design, for that matter: what hasn't simply been ported over from the first movie feels just a touch more generic, lacking the strong evocation of a small city away from the main course of humanity. And Its lair is altogether boring-looking. It's not, like, a hapless movie; but It was in some ways an actively special movie. "Not hapless" is still discouraging. And that's when it's working; when it's not, it's actively dull, distinctly unscary, and stretched out to oblivion with a meandering non-plot. Worse horror movies happen all the time, sure, but they typically have the decency to sweep in and out in around 80 minutes; Chapter Two is pretty unengaging for a truly monumental running time, and that encourages a certain petulant hostility towards it.