It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club defeated Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) in It(2017). During that time most of the club members moved away, except Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who lives above the town library and keeps watch for signs the evil clown has returned. And lo, at the start of It Chapter Two, Pennywise has returned.

To the phone Mike goes, calling the other six Losers, all of whom swore a blood oath that they would return to Derry, Maine, should Pennywise ever re-emerge. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful author; Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comedian; Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk analyst; Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect; Stanley (Andy Bean) is about to take his wife to Buenos Aires; and the lone woman in the group, Beverly (Jessica Chastain), is a fashion designer who, after being abused as a child, now has an abusive husband.

These phone calls could’ve been done as a montage, but writer Gary Dauberman and director Andy Muschietti treat each as individual scenes. In doing so, the viewer feels more “caught up” with where each person is now, and they register as real people who’ve moved on with their lives as opposed to grown-up versions of the children we previously got to know. This is important, because it creates emotional investment in the characters as they are now, and we need to care about them for the movie to work.

All return except one (no spoilers here!). Mike thinks he has a plan to defeat Pennywise, but it’s shaky at best. Part of the plan is for each Loser to retrieve a token from their childhood that could be used for a sacrifice, which leads to the best scares in the film, especially when Beverly returns to her old apartment.

The visual effects, particularly those involving Pennywise, are strong but not spectacular, which is fine. More impressive is the ensemble, which effectively updated characters originated two years ago by kids. The Losers from the 2017 film (Finn Wolfhard, Jaeden Martell, et al.) also appear, as Muschietti deftly balances the past and present in a way that allows the story to come together impressively well. And kudos to Skarsgard, who once again embodies Pennywise with disturbing menace.

At 169 minutes, this is the longest horror film ever made. Does it have to be this long? No, but it doesn’t feel long, which is important. Cutting 15 minutes or so would’ve made it mildly easier to sit through, but the truth is most of the content is worthwhile. Sure the climax is drawn out, and we don’t need as much of a local wacko named Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) as we get, but otherwise the running time is legit. (The original 1990 two-part miniseries production of It was 192 minutes long.)

Besides, Stephen King’s book itself is epic in length, at 1,184 pages. (King cameos in the film as the store clerk who overcharges Bill for a bike.)

Watching the film, my wife and I were holding hands (sweet, I know). I long ago became immune to jump scares, though my facial expressions during It Chapter Two certainly revealed my being freaked out at times. My wife, however, will jump at the surprises. I eventually had to stop holding her hand because she’d squeeze too tight after the jump scares. So she placed her hand on my knee. I now have a bruise on my knee. Brace yourself.

In a time when violence in real life is all too real, it might feel frivolous to devote nearly three hours of your free time to watching a scary, violent entity in clown form wreak havoc on innocent people. But it’s no coincidence that the film comes out now, if you think about it not as a portrayal of violence but more oriented around ordinary people pushing back – outsiders sticking up for each other and finding their power is greater than the sum of their parts.

As Mischietti told Vanity Fair, “We live in a world where there’s a culture of fear, where some leaders have a strong pull on people, which is exactly what Pennywise does. You can take it as an analogy: If you are separated, you’re more vulnerable, you’re more weak, and you’re easier to conquer. You’re easier to be made submissive and scared. That’s exactly what Pennywise does, and that’s what’s going on. That’s what’s happening in this world right now.”

IT CHAPTER TWO ( 3 ) Directed by Andy Muschietti • Starring Bill Skarsgard, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Andy Bean, James Ransone, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan • Rated R • 169 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Century Marina, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas

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