The overlong It: Chapter Two at times feels like a mere compilation of deleted scenes from the previous movie, an unfortunate consequence of its needless, nearly fatal dependence on flashbacks.
Director Andy Muschietti in adapting Stephen King’s behemoth of a novel made a key change: the book, and the original 1990 miniseries, jumps back and forth between the Losers’ Club as kids and as adults in the present. But Muschietti restructured the story for 2017’s It to focus entirely on the kids. One would assume, then, this would mean the sequel would similarly focus entirely on the adults.
Instead, Chapter Two essentially just adopts that same structure it initially abandoned by crosscutting scenes of the kids and the adults. But because the business with the kids seemed fully wrapped up in the original It, the time we spend in the past here almost never feels necessary and only adds to the three-hour film’s bloat.
Primarily, this becomes an issue during Chapter Two’s second hour, which is sandwiched between a strong first hour and third hour. The Losers separate on a video game style fetch quest to obtain artifacts from their past, but rather than keeping the focus on the adults, the movie spends long stretches of time with them as kids, too. With every character encountering Pennywise both in the present and the past, it doesn’t take long for this to grow tedious.
The past sequences are also not very suspenseful considering they’re placed within the timeline of the original movie, which we’ve all seen outcome of; to be precise, they’re set in the middle of an end-of-second-act time jump from the first It. If these sequences weren’t worth including last time, why should we be interested in them now? Shouldn’t the focus be on defeating Pennywise in the present, not recalling random other times he was scary 30 years ago?
There are plenty of other non-scare sequences of the kids, such as one in which the Losers return to their clubhouse and reminisce. This sequence should tug at the heartstrings and play with our emotional connection to the first movie, the same way Avengers: Endgame pushed audiences’ nostalgia buttons by revisiting events from the franchise’s past. The only problem? We never even saw this clubhouse in the original It. So the story packs far less of an emotional wallop when it’s asking us to feel nostalgic about an event and location we’re seeing for the first time right then. While most of the movie’s flashbacks only feel like deleted scenes from the original It, one late in the movie literally is one.
Of course, none of this would have been a problem if the most important of Chapter Two’s kid sequences had just been included in the original It. That way, Chapter Two could focus on the present, and there would be no need to double up on the scare sequences in act two; the Losers could simply briefly remember scares we already saw last time, and we wouldn’t have to watch them in their entirety. That would significantly reduce the exhausting runtime and prevent this portion of the movie from becoming as repetitive as it does.
It would also solve for another issue: the fact that we’re never quite as invested in the adults of Chapter Two because the movie itself seems more interested in the kids, constantly looking backwards to 1988 when it should have its mind on 2016.
What we got does make sense, though, considering It and It: Chapter Two were not actually produced together. Chapter Two was not officially greenlit until the original film was a smash success, so It was constructed to work on its own even if no sequel were ordered; the scenes that were left out to ensure this was the case then ended up pushed into the second part. Chapter Two being written after It already came out may also explain the decision to give the child actors so much to do. Everyone loved them last time, after all, and what studio wouldn’t want to say that their sequel still stars the kid from Stranger Things?
Some would argue that keeping the kids’ scenes and the adults’ scenes separate would lose a vital component of King’s novel and be unwise considering the kids were always more interesting. If so, perhaps this two-part adaptation should have just retained the book’s structure from the start and had adult scenes in the original It. With more meticulous planning, King’s epic work could have been distributed evenly across the two films to create a more consistent product. Unfortunately, the end result is one relentlessly fast-paced horror classic followed by an entertaining but bloated follow-up that never quite floats in the same way.