In the rosy glow of memory, It: Chapter One seems like a good film. My initial criticisms have faded, and now I just remember the loudmouth kids in the "Losers Club"—tearing around on bikes, experiencing helplessness and terror in their toxic hometown of Derry, Maine, and fleeing from the malevolent shape-shifting creature threatening them from its depths. True, much of the drama of Stephen King’s grand monster of a novel was missing, but in its place was a funny horror movie, with a tight-knit crew of talented child actors. First there was King's Stand By Me, and then there was the King-influenced Stranger Things, and It: Chapter One fit comfortably between.
The kids in the first movie were so good, actually, that the star-studded adult cast of It: Chapter Two—including James McAvoy as grown-up Bill, Jessica Chastain as grown-up Bev, and Bill Hader as grown-up Richie—suffers by comparison. Early on, when the adult Losers meet up for the first time since childhood, a jarring disjointedness rears its head: A staccato burst of 180-degree reaction shots and two-person framings gives the distinct impression that much of the film was shot separately to allow for the busy schedules of these actors.
I'm sorry to report that these adult Losers never really come together, despite great turns by Hader and a scene-stealing James Ransone as Eddie. It's a relief when the young Losers return, via previously unexplored recovered memories. Hot diggity dang! The boys and Bev (Sophia Lillis) are back in town!
It: Chapter Two gets better as it goes, but be warned that it goes for 169 minutes. It’s hard to argue with the film’s length, given the complicated, sprawling underbelly of lore and symbolism in Stephen King's book, but what does director Andy Muschietti do with all this time? Like the first film, Chapter Two has high points, but Muscietti also drags scenes out for far too long.
(It: Chapter Two wasn't the only three-hour horror movie I saw this week: Ari Aster's Midsommar director’s cut clocked in at 171 minutes, and it's... well, it's Midsommar. I keep wondering if I should be less critical of Muschietti and It, but then I remember waking up from Midsommar’s terrifying daydream, like “What? It’s over? Already?”)
Despite Chapter Two's runtime, Muschietti fails to imbue the film with the one thing King fans actually want from an It adaptation: the human drama. Chapter Two’s monsters, on the other hand, are terrific. They lunge and frighten not only with their rotten flesh, but by upending the rules of scale and physics. Perhaps unintentionally, the monsters in Chapter Two sync up with one of the most elusive themes of the novel: Recognizing the fundamental things we take for granted in our universe, and realizing those fundamental things are rotten.
Ultimately, we'll probably remember the two-part adaptation of It kindly, or at least kindly enough. Muschietti's strong, visually beautiful sequences will remain, and we'll forget his half-baked attempt at portraying domestic violence, which he briefly tried out and then never mentioned again. It: Chapter Two is an above-average blockbuster, but it fails to hit the mark—the impossibly high mark—of faithfully adapting King's novel. Audiences who see Chapter Two looking for a monster movie will find something much better than the typical monster movie, but King fans will be left wanting—though perhaps in a way that makes them want to reread It and remember why they loved the book so much in the first place.