PLOT Six adults reunite to face an evil figure that terrorized them as children.
CAST James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader
RATED R (gore and violence)
BOTTOM LINE An awkward mix of humor and horror that brings Stephen King's "It" to a disappointing end.
If any film arrived in theaters primed for success it would be "It Chapter Two," Andy Muschietti's sequel to his 2017 Stephen King adaptation "It." That first film hit the King sweet spot, mixing the bittersweetness of "Stand By Me" with the ghoulishness of "The Shining." Spurred in part by Netflix's nostalgic horror series "Stranger Things," perhaps, "It" became a major hit and ended with the tantalizing promise of more to come.
"It Chapter Two" doesn't just deliver more, however. With a running time of nearly 3 hours, it delivers way too much.
Granted, there's only so much returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman could cut from King's infamously sprawling 1,138-page novel. Taking place 27 years after the events of the first film, "It Chapter Two" needs to catch us up on our six childhood heroes — once known as The Losers' Club — now all grown up and played by an eclectic adult cast, notably James McAvoy as Bill, now a King-esque novelist working in Hollywood, and Jessica Chastain as Beverly, the gang's sole female. Repeated flashbacks remind us who became who. Then there's the film's signature villain, the nightmarish clown Pennywise (a hammily effective Bill Skarsgard, with bulbous forehead and drooling lower lip), who started out as a child killer but now seems game for killing just about anyone. His first victim, in the film's unnecessarily ugly opening scene, is a gay man who just survived a bashing.
Very little of "It Chapter Two" works. The scary monsters here feel random, not symbolic — Pennywise can become anything from a human-headed spider to an enormous roadside Paul Bunyan — and they're all figments of our heroes' imaginations anyway, so where's the fear? The film's two bright spots are Bill Hader as Richie, now a jaded stand-up comic, and James Ransone as Eddie, still a jittery germaphobe. Together, they give this muddled film some moments of much-needed humor and unexpected poignancy. (King himself also shines in a cameo role.)
The film's endings — plural, because there seem to be several of them — devolve into a stream of voice-over cliches, encouraging us to "be true," "be brave," "believe" and so on, a sure sign that a movie has forgotten what it's trying to say. By then, even die-hard fans of King's saga will have had enough of "It."
With roughly 40 movies made from his novels and short stories, Stephen King has become as much a brand as a writer. Here are his four top-grossing films, adjusted for inflation, according to BoxOfficeMojo:
IT (2017) Part one of Andy Muschietti's adaptation of King's sprawling novel — a mix of horror and coming-of-age drama — became King's biggest hit, earning $328 million.
THE GREEN MILE (1999) Just a few years after the 1994 release of "The Shawshank Redemption" came this prison-drama companion-piece starring Tom Hanks as a corrections officer who encounters an unusual inmate (Michael Clarke Duncan). It earned today's equivalent of $235 million.
THE SHINING (1980) King hated this Stanley Kubrick adaptation, but it's gone down as a classic thanks to its spine-tingling visuals and Jack Nicholson's wild-eyed performance as a murderous father. Its adjusted gross: $147 million.
CARRIE (1976) The first film based on a King novel is still one of the best, a slow burn toward a supernatural showdown between a bullied high schooler (Sissy Spacek) and her tormentors (John Travolta, among others). Directed by Brian De Palma, it takes fourth place with an adjusted $142 million.
— RAFER GUZMAN