IT Chapter Two is playing in cinemas, but while the sequel is an ambitious effort, it can't match the heights scaled by 2017's IT Chapter One. Both movies were directed by Andy Muschietti, adapting the twin storylines of Stephen King's novel IT into two separate features. Both have been commercial hits, although IT Chapter 2 won't beat the first movie at the box-office, while IT 2's reviews aren't as strong as the original's either.
The first IT was something of a surprise hit in 2017, at least in terms of just how good and successful it was, earning rave reviews and becoming the highest-grossing horror movie of all-time. Mostly starring a cast of teenagers, such as Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis, alongside Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise the Dancing Clown, it captured the same 80s coming-of-age nostalgia feel that's made Stranger Things so popular. IT Chapter Two takes place 27 years later, with Skarsgård back as Pennywise. Although the kids do return in flashbacks, they're mostly replaced by a starry adult cast, including James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader.
Despite so much shared creative talent and source material, IT Chapter 1 is a far superior film than its sequel. That's partly because of just how good it is, along with some (admirable) failings of IT Chapter Two, and also because of King's book as well.
IT Chapter 1 Better Captures Stephen King's Book
Both IT and IT Chapter 2 are based on Stephen King's epic novel and, as with any adaptation, both make changes to the text, either because elements wouldn't work on-screen, for length, or because they might not play well in a modern live-action film (like IT's infamous orgy scene). But what matters most is capturing the tone and feel of the book, and in that department, IT Chapter 1 is a clear winner over its sequel.
It might've taken out some of the really weird elements from King's IT book, like the turtle, but it really brought to life that mix of horror, humor, and heart that has helped make IT such an enduring work of fiction. That should extend to the second movie, but unfortunately it's lacking more than just weirdness, as it cuts down on all of those other elements as well. That might be more forgivable if it better tackled the themes of shared trauma and growing up with (or past) that as in King's novel, but here too it can't quite hit the mark, resulting in an uneven tone that doesn't quite mesh with either the novel or the movie that came before it.
IT's Adult Storyline Isn't As Strong As The Kids Plot
One of the reasons for IT Chapter Two's weaker reviews is its plotting, which covers a lot of the same beats as the first movie: the Losers' Club have to band together to defeat Pennywise, they need to face up to their fears, and their bonds will be tested along the way. This doesn't work as well for IT Chapter Two, because the adults aren't as interesting to follow in this regard as the kids. There is potential in the exploration of childhood trauma, but IT 2 doesn't maximize it, and much of what happens felt like a better fit when they were teenagers rather than adults.
This isn't just the fault of IT Chapter Two though, but also something that's stemmed from Stephen King's book and the original IT miniseries. IT starts off as a coming-of-age tale, and it's much better suited to it - not least because the monster is mostly manifesting as a clown. But for the way the characters develop, and the things they have to face up to - not just the fears as presented by IT, but also those that come with growing up and potentially growing apart - there's a much clearer sense of purpose, story, and themes when it's told around teenagers. Adults, especially those who've settled down and become a little wearier, just aren't as fun or interesting to watch as children who are still full of wonder, imagination, fear, and possibilities.
IT's Cast Had Much Greater Chemistry Than IT Chapter 2's
One of the big reasons for the success of IT is the cast. Not just that Skarsgård's Pennywise cut a terrifying figure, but the kids themselves. Whether more experienced like Wolfhard or relative newcomers, each of the teenagers expertly fit into the role and brought their characters to life in a way befitting of the source material, but more important than that even was they really felt like friends. They clearly cared for one another, they knew one other, they fought and made-up like good friends do, and above all they bounced off one another really well.
IT Chapter Two is admittedly at a disadvantage with this, because the characters are coming back together for the first time in years, which means it can be awkward. But once that wears off, there's still little sign that most of these people ever knew each other, let alone were close friends. Richie and Eddie (Bill Hader and James Ransone) come closest, with their respective actors giving the two best performances, but the majority of IT Chapter 2's cast is oddly lacking. Even if they don't remember things, there's no reason the cast shouldn't be able to fit together smoothly and play off one another, but we don't get that in IT 2. The characters are strangers, and it feels like the cast were too, which means the big group moments, where that unity is key, don't carry like they did in IT.
IT Chapter 1 Is A Tighter, More Focused Horror Movie
IT Chapter Two is an ambitious effort from Andy Muschietti, but it's that ambition which ultimately becomes the film's downfall. With a three-hour runtime, IT 2 strives to be a true epic, wanting to balance horror with ripe character drama and an exploration of trauma and abuse. Unfortunately, while those attempts are admirable, IT Chapter Two can't pull it off. Much of the drama becomes stale because it feels repetitive and goes on for so long, and the movie is further dragged down by a lack of scares, while Skarsgård's talents are often wasted here too. It's not bad, but it's very messy and Muschietti's direction can't reach the lofty heights he aims for.
That's a stark contrast to IT, which was a much smaller affair. That goes for its budget - $35m compared to $79m, meaning it had to be smarter and find more tricks to use - but also its length, which clocks in at 135 minutes as opposed to IT Chapter 2's 169-minute runtime. On top of that, though, IT Chapter 1 has a much clearer sense of what it is and wants to be: it's a coming-of-age movie first, a horror movie second, but it blends the two genres together remarkably well, giving a sweet, funny, and scary character journey that far surpasses IT Chapter Two.